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Full text of "The Magic island / by W. B. Seabrook ; illustrated with drawings by Alexander King."

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See paqe 30 

Here are deep matters, not easily to 
be dismissed by crying blasphemy. " 













for reasons which 
appear hereafter 



Yart One 





IV. THE “oUANGa” charm 45 



Fart Two 




fields” 92 

III. toussel’s pale bride 104 


Part Three 







III. “the truth is a beautiful thing” 142 

IV. “ladies and gentlemen, the president!” 150 


Fart Four 







VI. THE “danse Congo” 219 

VII. “no white man COULD BE AS DUMB AS THAt” 11 '] 




FROM THE author’s NOTEBOOK 283 

List of Drawings by Alexander King 













DIE 67 



















The photographs are inserted at page 310 , 



Our West Indian mail boat lay at anchor in a tropical 
green gulf. 

From the palm-fringed shore a great mass of mountains 
rose, fantastic and mysterious. Dark jungle covered their 
near slopes, but high beyond the jungle, blue-black, bare 
ranges piled up, towering. 

At the water’s edge, lit by the sunset, sprawled the town 
of Cap Haitien. Our boat lay so close that in the bright, 
fading light it was easy to distinguish landmarks. 

Here amid more modern structures were the wrecked 
mansions of the sixteenth-century French colonials who had 
imported slaves from Africa and made Haiti the richest 
colony in the western hemisphere. 

Here was the paved pleasance on the waterfront, scene of 
white massacres when the blacks rose with fire and sword. 

Here in ruins was the palace built for Pauline Bonaparte 
when Napoleon sent his brother-in-law with an imperial 
army to do battle with slaves who had won their freedom. 

On a peak behind the Cape loomed the gigantic fortress 
which the self-crowned black king Christophe had built 
after every soldier of that white imperial army was dead or 
had sailed back to France. 

And now above the present-day government headquarters 
in the town floated the red-blue flag made by ripping the 
white from the French tricolor. Thus it has floated for more 
than a hundred years as the symbolic emblem of black 

All this was panoramic as we lay at anchor in the sunset, 
but as night fell it faded to vagueness and disappeared. 




Only the jungle mountains remained, dark, mysterious; 
and from their slopes came presently far out across the 
water the steady boom of Voodoo drums. 

New York 
September, 1928 

Fart One: 


Chapter I 


Louis, son of Catherine Ozias of Orblanche, paternity un- 
known — and thus without a surname was he inscribed in 
the Haitian civil register — reminded me always of that 
proverb out of hell in which Blake said, “He whose face 
gives no light shall never become a star.” 

It was not because Louis’ black face, frequently perspir- 
ing, shone like patent leather ; it glowed also with a mystic 
light that was not always heavenly. 

For Louis belonged to the chimeric company of saints, 
monsters, poets, and divine idiots. He used to get besotted 
drunk in a corner, and then would hold long converse with 
seraphim and demons, also from time to time with his dead 
grandmother who had been a sorceress. 

In addition to these qualities, Louis was our devoted yard 
boy. He served us, in the intervals of his sobriety, with a 
passionate and all-consuming zeal. 

We had not chosen Louis for our yard boy. He had chosen 
us. He had also chosen the house we lived in. These two 
things had happened while we were still at the Hotel 
Montagne. And they had seemed to us slightly miraculous, 
though the grapevine telegraph of servants in Port-au- 
Prince might adequately have explained both. Katie and 
I had been house-hunting. We had been shown unlivably 
ostentatious plaster palaces with magnificent gardens, and 
livable wooden villas with inadequate gardens or no gardens 
at all, until we had begun to despair. One afternoon as we 
left the hotel gate, strolling down the hill to Ash Pay 
Davis’s, a black boy, barefooted and so ragged that we 
thought he was a beggar, stopped us and said in creole with 




affectionate assurance, as if he had known us all our lives, 
“I have found the house for you.” Not a house, mind you. 
Nor was there any emphasis on the the; there couldn’t be 
in creole. He said literally, “M’ te joiend’ caille ou” (I 
have found your house). ^ 

What we did may sound absurd. We returned to the 
hotel, got out our car, took Louis inside — he had wanted to 
ride the running-board — and submitted to his guidance. He 
directed us into the fashionable Rue Turgeau toward the 
American club and colony, but before reaching that ex- 
clusive quarter, we turned unfamiliarly left and then up a 
lane that ran into the jungle valley toward Petionville, and 
there where city and jungle joined was a dilapidated but 
beautiful garden of several acres and in its midst a low, 
rambling, faded pink one-story house with enormous veran- 
das on a level with the ground. 

Some of the doors were locked ; the rest were nailed up. 
Behind the house were stone-built servants’ quarters and 
a kitchen, also locked. There was a has sin (swimming-pool) 
choked with debris and leaves. 

Who owned this little dilapidated paradise, whether it 
was for rent, how much the rent might be — these were 
matters outside the scope of Louis’ genius. He had not in- 
quired before coming to find us, and he made no offers or 
suggestions now. 

We thanked Louis, dropped him at Sacre Coeur, told him 
to come see us at the hotel next morning, then drove to 
Ash Pay’s and discovered after considerable telephoning 
that the place belonged to Maitre Morel and might be 
rented for thirty dollars a month. Toussaint, black inter- 
preter for the brigade who dabbled helpfully in everything, 
would get us the keys on Wednesday afternoon when 
Maitre Morel returned from Saint Marc. 

Louis did not come to the hotel next morning, nor the 
morning after, but when we went with Toussaint three days 

^ See Appendix, page 285. 

S^' 1 

Bp .,: ’ 


It 1 



■ f .-M i 


Louis’ face glowed with a light 
that was not always heavenly.” 



later to open the house, we were received blandly by Louis, 
who was already at home in a corner of the brick-paved 
veranda to which he had in the interval transported all his 
earthly possessions, consisting of a pallet, an old blanket, 
an iron cooking-pot, a candle-stub, and a small wooden box 
containing doubtless his more intimate treasures. In the 
pot were the remains of some boiled plantain, apparently 
his sole sustenance. 

Neither he nor we ever mentioned the matter of employ- 
ing him. Several days were going to elapse before we could 
move in, but I gave him the keys to the house then and 
there. I also gave him ten gourdes, the equivalent of two 
dollars, which was a large sum of money, and told him to 
buy for himself what was needful, suggesting a new shirt 
and a supply of food. He was undernourished, and with 
that new wealth he could feast for a week; the price of a 
chicken in Haiti is twenty cents. 

Returning some days later, I found him with a new pair 
of tennis shoes, a magnificently gaudy new scarf knotted 
round his neck, lying on his back in the grass beneath the 
shade of a mango tree, blissfully and inoffensively drunk, 
singing a little happy tune which he made as it went, in- 
viting the birds to come and admire his new clothes. His 
shirt was as before. His whole shoulder protruded from a 
rent in it. I examined the cook-pot. It contained the remains 
of some boiled plantain, and it had apparently contained 
nothing else in the interval. I have told you, I think, that 
Louis was a saint. Even so, I fear it is going to be difficult 
to make you understand Louis, unless you have read sym- 
pathetically the lives of the less reputable saints and have 
also lived in a tropical country like Haiti. 

Of course when we furnished the house and moved in, 
we had additional servants — the dull, competent butler, a 
middle-aged woman cook, and for blanchisseuse a plump 
little wench with flashing teeth and roving eyes who 
promptly fell in love with Louis, gave him money, and more 



intimate favors when he permitted it. Having four servants 
was not ostentatious in Port-au-Prince, even for us who in 
New York habitually have none. It was the general custom. 
We paid the four of them a grand sum total of thirty-one 
dollars monthly, and they found their own food. The last 
three were reasonably efficient, as servants, doing generally 
what they were told ; but Louis, who never did what he was 
told, was nevertheless in actual fact, putting quite aside 
his fantastic power of holding our affection, the most effi- 
cient servant of them all. The things he wanted to do, he 
did without being ordered, and they were many. For in- 
stance, there was the matter of our small sedan. He knew 
nothing about its mechanical insides and could never learn 
to change a tire, but he took a passionate pride in keeping it 
clean and polished. He groomed it as if it were alive. When 
it came home covered with caked mud he dropped no matter 
what and labored like a madman. He would never clean up 
the garden, burn brush, carry stones, but during the first 
week he anticipated our intentions by appearing with vines 
and flowers for transplanting, the earth still clinging to their 
roots, which he had got from God knows where. And these 
also he attended devotedly as if they were alive in a more 
than vegetable sense. 

He delighted in doing personal things to please us. Some- 
times when we thought we needed him he was as tranquilly 
drunk as an opium-smoking Chinaman or off chasing the 
moon, but at moments when we least expected anything he 
would appear with a great armful of roses for Katie or a 
basket for me of some queer fruit not seen in the markets. 
On rare occasions, sometimes when drinking, sometimes not, 
he was hysterically unhappy and could not be comforted. 
But usually he was the soul of joy. And in the household 
Louis gradually centered his allegiance and chief concern 
on me. I mention this because most people, whether serv- 
ants, kinsfolk, intimate friends, or casual acquaintances. 


1 1 

find Katie the more admirable human being of us two. 
But Louis put me first. He began gradually to give me 
confidences. He felt, as time passed, that I understood him. 

And what has all this to do with the dark mysteries of 
Voodoo? you may ask, but I suspect that you already know. 
It was humble Louis and none other who set my feet in the 
path which led finally through river, desert, and jungle, 
across hideous ravines and gorges, over the mountains and 
beyond the clouds, and at last to the Voodoo Holy of 
Holies. These are not metaphors. The topography of Haiti 
is a tropical-upheaved, tumbled-towering madland of para- 
dises and infernos. There are sweet plains of green-waving 
sugar cane, coral strands palm-fronded, impenetrable jun- 
gles of monstrous tangled growth, arid deserts where obscene 
cactus rises spiked and hairy to thrice the height of a tall 
man on horseback and where salamanders play; there are 
black canyons which drop sheer four thousand feet, and 
forbidding mornes which rise to beyond nine thousand. But 
the trail which led among them and ended one night when 
I knelt at last before the great Rada drums, my own fore- 
head marked with blood — that trail began at my own back 
doorstep and led only across the garden to my yard boy 
Louis’ bare, humble quarters where a tiny light was burning. 

In a cocoanut shell filled with oil the little wick floated, 
its clear-flamed tip smaller than a candle’s, and before it, 
raised on a pile of stones such as a child might have built 
in play, was a stuffed bag made of scarlet cloth, shaped like 
a little water-jug, tied round with ribbon, surmounted by 
black feathers. Louis had come on tiptoe shortly after mid- 
night, seeing me reading late and Katie gone to a dance at 
the club, whose music floated faintly across from Turgeau 
in the stillness. He explained that a mysthe, a lot, which is 
a god or spirit, had entered the body of a girl who lived in 
a hut up the ravine behind our house, and that everywhere 
throughout our neighborhood, in the many straw-thatched 



huts of the ravine, likewise in the detached servant quarters 
of the plaster palaces of American majors and colonels, 
hundreds of similar little sacred flames were burning. 

Thus, and as time passed, confidence engendering con- 
fidence, I learned from Louis that we white strangers in this 
twentieth-century city, with our electric lights and motor 
cars, bridge games and cocktail parties, were surrounded 
by another world invisible, a world of marvels, miracles, and 
wonders — a world in which the dead rose from their graves 
and walked, in which a man lay dying within shouting dis- 
tance of my own house and from no mortal illness but be- 
cause an old woman out in Leogane sat slowly unwinding 
the thread wrapped round a wooden doll made in his image ; 
a world in which trees and beasts talked for those whose ears 
were attuned, in which gods spoke from burning bushes, as 
on Sinai, and sometimes still walked bodily incarnate as 
in Eden’s garden. 

I also learned from Louis, or at least began to glimpse 
through him, something which I think has never been fully 
understood, that Voodoo in Haiti is a profound and vitally 
alive religion — alive as Christianity was in its beginnings 
and in the early Middle Ages when miracles and mystical 
illuminations were common everyday occurrences — that 
Voodoo is primarily and basically a form of worship, and 
that its magic, its sorcery, its witchcraft (I am speaking 
technically now), is only a secondary, collateral, sometimes 
sinisterly twisted by-product of Voodoo as a faith, pre- 
cisely as the same thing was true in Catholic mediaeval 
Europe. / 

In short, I learned from Louis that while the High Com- 
missioner, his lady, and the colonel had called and taken 
tea in our parlor, the high gods had been entering by the 
back door and abiding in our servants’ lodge. 

Nor was this surprising. It has been a habit of all gods 
from immemorial days. They have shown themselves singu- 
larly indifferent to polite company, high-sounding titles, 



parlors, and fine houses . . . indifferent indeed to all 
worldly pride and splendor. We have built domed temples 
and vast cathedrals, baited with glories of polychrome and 
marble to trap them, but when the gods come uninvited of 
their own volition, or send their messengers, or drop their 
flame-script cards of visit from the skies, it is not often 
these gilded temples or the proud of the earth they seek, but 
rather some road-weary humble family asleep in a wayside 
stable, some illiterate peasant girl dreaming in an orchard 
as she tends her sheep, some cobbler in his hut among the 
Alps. Perhaps in their own far-off celestial sphere the gods 
are surfeited with glory, and only for that reason visit earth 
at all. Perhaps they suffer from some divine nostalgic de la 
boue. Always when rich, mighty temples are erected where 
once the humble stable stood, there is a risk that the bored 
gods will betake themselves elsewhere without saying au 
revoir. And perhaps it was through some such habit of the 
gods as this that mortal I, who have stood with bowed head 
and good intentions in so many of this world’s great gilded 
cathedrals, mosques, and temples, have never felt myself 
so close to the invisible presence of ultimate mystery as I 
did later, more than once, beneath straw-thatched roofs in 
the Haitian mountains. And this despite up-cropping 
naivetes, savageries, grotesqueries, superstitious mumbo- 
jumbo, and at times deliberate witch-doctor charlatan 
trickeries that must be included too if I am to keep this 
record honest. 

Louis and I began to go wandering in the hills together 
and sitting under trees, where he would tell me of the names 
and attributes of the many Voodoo gods — Papa Legba, 
guardian of the gates, who was the most benevolent ; Dam- 
balla Oueddo, wisest and most powerful, whose symbol was 
the serpent ; Loco, god of the forests ; Agoue, gcd of the sea ; 
Maitresse Ezilee, who was the mild Blessed Virgin Mary ; 
Ogoun Badagris, the bloody dreadful'^One whose voice was 
thunder. There were dozens of them, it seemed. It was like 



a nursery lesson in Greek mythology, except that to Louis 
these were not myths, they were more real than he or I. 
No need to catalogue all their names here; most of them 
will fall naturally into the record later. Perhaps before the 
book is ended I shall try to compile a table of theological 
Voodoo statistics, but it will not be as congenial a task as 
sitting with Louis under a palm tree.^ 

One afternoon, quite of his own volition, he began tell- 
ing me of the ritual ceremonies in which these gods were 
worshiped, and soon I realized he was eye-witness recount- 
ing things quite unknown to the outside world and extraor- 
dinarily at variance not only with fiction and stage versions 
of Voodoo ritual, but with the few records extant of per- 
sons who have claimed a direct knowledge. He was telling 
me, in his own rich creole, of choral processionals all robed 
in white, of men and women grouped, antiphonally chant- 
ing, of a sacred black bull covered with embroidered dra- 
peries, glittering with adornments, with lighted candles 
fastened to its horns, led to the sacrificial altar. . . . “Ah, 
monsieur,” he cried, excited, “it was belle! belle! belle!” 
He was seeing it once more as he sat there. I could tell it 
in his eyes. He was trying to make me see it. But now, lost 
in his own memory vision, he could only repeat that it was 
beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. 

Belle was a word Louis seldom used, probably because 
everything to him was beautiful, just as everything was 
holy to St. Francis, and a special phenomenon would have 
to be superlatively beautiful before he felt the fact worth 
mentioning. Only two phenomena in our immediate lives 
had hitherto, separately, called forth the adjective: Claire 
and the peacock. The peacock had been given us by Major 
Davis, but it was not aware that it belonged to us; it fol- 
lowed Louis about as if he were its mate. “0/z, la belle 
betel” he exclaimed when it first spread its tail, and he 
called it by no other name thereafter. When Claire had ap- 
2 See Appendix, page 288. 



peared from New York to visit us, Louis had exclaimed 
with like ecstatic spontaneity, “Oh, la belle dameT She 
will forgive me for suggesting that this was extraordinary. 
She had beauty, yes, but not of a flagrant kind. Leo Katz, 
sunken in mystic portrait painting, had limned her as a 
saint, and might as easily have made her a sibyl or a she- 
devil, but the social herd in Port-au-Prince, as at home, 
found her more often strange than surpassingly lovely. 
Louis was quick enough at remembering names, and hers 
was easy, but during her entire stay with us he found no 
other name for her. It was always “the beautiful beast,” 
and always “the beautiful lady.” 

Claire’s face glowed as Louis’ sometimes did with the 
inner light that never shone on land or sea; she also was 
of that strange company, a little sister of the saints and 
succubi; and I think it was for this that Louis wisely found 
her beautiful. 

And now in memory he had evoked another vision of 
unearthly beauty. 

I said to him presently, “Louis, it was for this, and for 
this only, I think, that I came to Haiti. I would give any- 
thing in the world to see it. I would risk my life, do you 
understand? — except that that isn’t the way I want to 
see it.” 

“Ah, monsieur,” said Louis sorrowfully, “if you were 
only black!” 

Several days later Louis said, apropos apparently of 
nothing, “It’s more than a month since I have seen my 
mother at Orblanche. It takes a day to go and a day to 

I said, “All right, Louis, but since when have you taken 
to asking anybody’s permission for your goings and return- 

“It was not for that,” said Louis; “I thought you would 
come with me.” 

Chapter II 


Louis was flattered that I should have come with him; I 
was flattered that he should have asked me. So with our 
joint egos agreeably inflated we ambled along the narrow 
donkey path, I on a little saddled pony borrowed from 
Divesco, he topping me on a bareback mule obtained by his 
own mysterious devices, and as we rode single file we sang, 
not always in unison: 

’Ti fi pas connais laver passer 

Alter caille maman ou; 

’Ti fi pas connais laver passer 

Reter caille maman on. 

Chorus (repeated ad lib.) : 

Angelica! Angelica! 

Reter caille maman ou. 

It meant, “Little girl, since you don’t know how to wash 
and iron, go on back home to your mamma and stay there.” 
There was another verse in which the girl replies, “Little 
boy, since you haven’t got any pennies in your pocket, you’d 
better beat it home to your own mamma.” 

From time to time inspired, Louis and I invented new 
verses, both indecent and mystical, until we emerged from 
the trail to the highroad, galloped into Petionville, and 
dismounted at the market behind the church where old 
women sat with their baskets and donkeys. We squabbled 
and bargained until we had filled a large sack with gifts 
for Louis’ mother. They were not expensive or lordly — 
such things as Louis might have bought returning to the 




maternal caille alone, dried fish, tobacco leaves, tablettes 
which are brown-sugar candy, gingerbread, a small sack 
of flour, a bottle of red rum, and (fools that we were) a lot 
of banana-figs that were crushed to a pulp as we jogged. 
“No matter,” said Louis; “the babies will lick them up.” 

So down the hills and over the plain of the Cul-de-Sac 
through fields of green cane, into another woods, to 
Orblanche, Louis’ natal village, a straggling collection of 
some dozen straw-thatched, wattle-and-mud-walled huts 
and houses with naked babies and half-naked wenches who 
cried, “It’s Cousin Louis with a white. Welcome, cousin. 
Welcome, white.” It might have been in the friendly heart 
of Africa. 

Louis’ mamma, Catherine Ozias of Orblanche, small, 
black, and wrinkled, lay in her house on a palm-fiber pallet, 
in a moderately clean white wrapper, ill, but not too ill to 
arise and bestir herself. She whimpered and sobbed, hugging 
Louis, as old mothers do, but not excessively. It was only 
when she stood back to survey him and observed he was 
wearing shoes that the tears of joy flowed free. For only 
those who have risen in the world wear shoes in Haiti. And 
because Louis wore shoes and introduced me as his “friend 
and protector,” she gave thanks to the bon Dieu and wanted 
to kiss my hand. The bon Dieu and Blessed Brother Jesus 
find themselves in strange company in Haiti, both celestial 
and mortal. The Catholic priests, all save a few of the oldest 
and wisest rural ones, deplore this, but I suspect that Jesus 
himself might understand and be well content.^ 

Louis’ mother exclaimed over the gifts as they were 
drawn one by one from the sack. Naked grandchildren 
crowded shyly in the doorway as she doled out candy and 
gingerbread. Under a palm-leaf canopy on poles in the 
yard, a chicken and millet in an iron bowl were set cooking. 
Louis drew his mother aside and began whispering earnestly 
with her, nodding in my direction. We went back presently 

^ See Appendix, page 292. 



into her house, into its main room, earth-floored, about nine 
feet by seven in size. We entered through the always-open 
doorway in which no door had ever hung. Her pallet lay 
on the earth ; there was a little table on which were calabash 
utensils, also three or four china cups and plates, some tin 
knives, forks, and spoons; her few other belongings hung 
from pegs in the mud wall. Partitioned off from this were 
two other tiny rooms, one open with another pallet lying 
on the ground, the second closed by a rickety wooden door. 
To this door Louis and his mother led me, and we entered, 
shutting it behind us. Built against the wall was a low 
altar on which were two Voodoo ouanga bags surmounted 
by feathers, a crude wooden serpent symbol, a crucifix, a 
thunderstone, a French colored lithograph of the Virgin 
Mary, a calabash bowl with green plantains and other offer- 
ings of simple food, and in the altar’s forefront a cocoanut- 
shell lamp with its tiny, floating flame. I wish I could make 
it clear how real this was despite its, to our eyes, anachro- 
nistic naivete. Forget the details and see only, if you can, 
that here a sacred flame was burning before sincerely wor- 
shiped household gods, just as such flames have burned not 
only for Louis’ savage forbears in the Congo jungle, but 
before the Lares and Penates of ancient Rome, and still 
burn today before household shrines in every so-called 
heathen land and in a few archaic Christian ones where 
religion is an intimate vital element of daily life. 

On the floor beside the altar was a small, cheap painted 
wooden chest which Louis brought out when we emerged. 
It contained the somewhat surprising family heirlooms and 
treasures. He fished out and displayed those which con- 
cerned him personally and would therefore be most likely 
to interest me. They did. There was an old-fashioned en- 
graved certificate of first communion from the parish church 
at Croix de Bouquet, which Louis handed me as his own. 
It had come from an ecclesiastical engraver in the Quartier 



de Saint Sulpice at Paris. It depicted a Gothic interior with 
mitered mediaeval bishops communing little kneeling 
blonde girls in hoopskirts and early Victorian pantalettes, 
little white boys dressed like Frenchified Etonians. How 
different must the scene have been at Louis’ own first com- 
munion. I examined the writing. I said, “But look here, 
Louis, this doesn’t say your name, ‘Louis, fils de Catherine 
Ozias’; it says, ‘Auguste Jean Baptiste Ozias.’ ” 

“Ah,” said Louis, “it’s true, but I had long forgotten it. 
Auguste is my cousin. You see, the priest was in a hurry, 
he handed them out rolled up and gave me the wrong one, 
but Auguste has one too, so it’s all the same.” 

And now Louis pulled out of the box a flute. It was a 
proper black flute with German-silver keys. Writers of fic- 
tion generally must stick to probabilities, or at least possi- 
bilities, more or less, but in real life there are no such limi- 
tations. The impossible happens continually. Louis himself 
would have been incredible in any fiction, except perhaps 
that of Dostoevski or Melville. It seemed, as nearly as I 
could gather, that Louis in his childhood had for a time 
attended parish school, and that the amiable priests, de- 
spairing of teaching him to read and write, but hearing 
him often singing (and doubtless influenced unknowingly 
by his kinship with fauns and angels), had given him the 
old flute and taught him to play it. I am sure that if Louis 
had been born in an Italian hill village instead of the 
Haitian jungle, he would have preached to the animals 
and been canonized. Now he played a melody which I had 
often heard country people singing or whistling as they 
worked, and which I was to know later as the invocation to 
Legba.^ I said, “Louis, why don’t you bring your flute back 
to town?” He said, “I mean to; I was afraid before that it 
would be stolen.” Where he had slept, how he had lived 
in the city before he attached himself to us, I wondered. 

2 See Appendix, page 294. 



He did bring back the flute and played it sometimes for us, 
but the best to hear was at a distance when he sat under a 
far tree in the garden for hours piping to the peacock, which 
would stand close near him as if enchanted. 

Ye patient, pious, and mildly tolerant priests of Croix 
de Bouquet, would it have caused you pangs to know that 
the flute you once gave Louis from the goodness of your 
hearts, which your own consecrated hands taught him to 
play, was now piping pagan melodies to Legba, serpent 
gods, and peacocks ; to know that his pretty first communion 
papers engraved in the shadow of Saint Sulpice and brought 
in Christian vessels across the seas, now lay with ancient 
thunderstones upon a Voodoo altar? 

If so, I believe, your pious pangs would have been in 
part assuaged could you have seen that selfsame altar as I 
chanced to return and see it long afterward, late in a Holy 
Week when all its sacred objects, Christian and pagan to- 
gether, were stripped from it on the evening of Good 
Friday, laid as if dead in rows before it upon the ground 
and covered over with palm fronds, to remain thus buried as 
Lord Jesus was until the Easter resurrection morn. During 
Golgotha’s tragedy, even the great Voodoo serpent-god 
Damballa must bow his hooded head. And with the half 
million Voodoo altars in Haiti, it was and has been, I am 
told, on each succeeding anniversary the same. Here are 
deep matters, not easily to be dismissed by crying blas- 

In the afternoon Louis and I went to walk by the river 
and to call upon his uncle, Dort Dessiles, who was a papaloi. 
Louis took him aside as he had his mother, and again whis- 
pered earnestly, and I knew they were talking of the con- 
versation I had had with Louis on the hill. Dort Dessiles, 
naturally, was not wholly trustful. After all, my face was 
white. I often regretted it in Haiti. Old Dessiles, neverthe- 
less, was friendly, took us to his house for a glass of rum. 
He wanted to do what Louis asked, but he was afraid. 


. Dort Dessiles, who was a papaloi.” 



Louis insisted. He kept saying that I was not like a white 
man, whatever that meant. Finally Dessiles and I had a 
long conversation. The immediate result was that we three 
went to another caille about a quarter of a mile distant, to 
lay the matter before a man named Dieron, who was a 
hougan, a sort of Voodoo high priest in the district. His 
relation to Dessiles, I gathered, was somewhat like that of 
a bishop to a vicar. When we parted with him the upshot 
was still uncertain. They had a curious faith in Louis, due, 
I think, not only to their village and blood relationship, but 
also in part to Louis’ otherworldliness. They accepted me 
on faith as Louis’ friend. They talked with me frankly; 
they took me back a mile from the road and showed me the 
local houmfort (mystery house) and the peristyle under 
which blood-sacrifices from time to time took place; but for 
me, a white man, to be present at these ceremonials — ah, 
that was a hard matter, over which they shook their heads 
dubiously. I did not press it. “I am going to be in Haiti a 
long time,” I said; “maybe sometime later if we get to 
know each other better . . .” And we let it stand at that. 

I returned to Port-au-Prince the same night, by the moon, 
leaving Louis with his family, in his natal village. I guessed 
that he might accomplish more alone than with me present. 

He came back after two days, saying he was sure it could 
be arranged in the end, and during the next several weeks 
I made three visits with him to Orblanche, sometimes spend- 
ing the night there. 

It was so well arranged finally — in anticipation — that 
my part in the preparations became as intimate as that of 
a city cousin engaged with country kinsfolk in trimming 
the family Christmas tree. I was to buy sweet cakes, candles, 
and ribbons. I was taken to admire the black bull chosen a 
week in advance and now penned up in Dieron’s compound. 
It was to be for the next Saturday night. 

Only one thing remained to be done, and it seemed a 
mere courteous formality. It was to inform Kebreau quietly 



and unofficially so that he might keep his royal back turned 
and his royal eyes closed on that night. Kebreau was the 
brown-skinned Haitian Lieutenant-Chief of Gendarmerie 
for the Croix de Bouquet district, but unofficially he was 
political “king” of the Cul-de-Sac plain. Kebreau knew 
that Dort was a papaloi^ Dieron a hougan. Kebreau knew 
the location of their houmfort and knew that from time 
to time ceremonials technically against the law occurred 
there. Kebreau knew everything. But Kebreau was not 
active in persecuting the religion of his own devoted peas- 
ants. I am not suggesting that Kebreau was false to his 
uniform or that he connived overtly in the breaking of the 
law ; he was one of the most conscientious gendarme officers 
in Haiti, but he couldn’t stamp out Voodoo if he had wished, 
and why should he try when many of the wisest and most 
efficient white captains and lieutenants of other rural dis- 
tricts closed their eyes to many things that went on con- 
tinually around them — when at Leogane, for instance, and 
in a village just east of Gonaives there were unburned 
mystery houses, obvious and unmistakable, within clear 
sight of the great highroad over which the motor cars of 
white generals frequently passed.® 

But it was a duty of courtesy to inform Kebreau un- 
officially, a matter of good faith, as Dort and Dieron ex- 
plained; so on Thursday morning they were going to tell 

Thursday night late, a man came in to Port-au-Prince 
from Orblanche, finding my house and asking for Louis, 
with the message that everything was spoiled — that 
Kebreau for some unaccountable reason had told them they 
must not do it. 

I was unhappy, and so was Louis. During the night, lying 
awake, it occurred to me that Kebreau might have heard 
they planned to have a white man present, and for that 
® See Appendix, page 294. 



reason had refused to let them go on. I decided, therefore, 
that there was a bare chance things might be straightened 
out if I went to see Kebreau myself. I happened to know 
him personally, and this is how I happened to know him : 

Some months previous. Major R. H. Davis, Mr. Halli- 
day, and I had gone on a wild-guinea hunt, motoring out 
through Kebreau’s district, and turning fifteen miles be- 
yond into the thorn-bush desert near Thomazeau, pene- 
trating ten miles from the main highway, on a dirt road 
over which autos almost never passed. Toward twilight, 
just as we got back to the car, a torrential rain fell, which 
lasted most of the night. We had chains and tried to go 
through, with the result that soon we were bogged to our 
axles. An old man appeared out of the mud, rain, and dark- 
ness, and I said, “Ou capaV joiend’ gros cod de hef?” 
(Literally: You capable join [find] great rope two bulls'?) 

“Non, hlanc, pas capaV N he replied in hopeless tones, 
but when we showed him six dollars — we chose six because 
it was the exact amount he could earn by working for a 
solid month in the canefields — he decided he was capah’ and 
disappeared to try. Toward midnight he returned, wading 
through the mud, with a yoke of oxen and the entire male 
population of a village. Major Davis stayed at the wheel, 
trying to low-speed, while Halliday and I got out and 
pushed behind with the negroes, the old man cracking his 
whip and shouting at the oxen in front. The engine roared, 
the oxen tugged, Halliday fell down in the knee-deep 
goulash mud, got up, cursing, to push again, I fell down 
too, the negroes laughed, and the car never budged. 

The old man gave it up in disgust, and blamed us, say- 
ing philosophically, “Auto bagad de villd” (It’s a toy that 
ought to stay in the city). But another old man, working 
with his wet black hands in the headlight glare, made a 
little cross with two sticks and a piece of string fished from 
his pocket, tied it prayerfully to our tail-light, and with 
mighty heaving the car came out of the hole. They dragged 



us eventually to the highway, where the “city toy” went 
completely dead. Well paid, they departed, and left us to 
our now hopeless misery. It was a dreary night, and not 
yet dawn. We were wet through and covered with mud. 
People now began to pass, like ghosts, with their donkeys 
on the way to market. We began hailing them, saying, 
“Are you going to Croix de Bouquet?” When one said, 
“Yes,” we gave him a half gourde (ten cents) and said, 
“Tell Lieutenant Kebreau at Gendarmerie headquarters to 
send out and rescue us.” We sent a string of messages like 
that. And Kebreau, not content with sending a truck with 
a half dozen gendarme privates aboard, also a mechanic, 
also spades, tackle, and a thermos bottle full of coffee, 
came out himself in a touring-car to condole us and lend 
a hand. It was the first time I had ever seen him. He was 
a magnificent fellow, six feet tall, past middle age, hand- 
some as a bronze statue with his fine Kaiser Wilhelm 
mustaches and his skin almost the same color as his Sam 
Browne belt and polished boots. He was respectfully 
amused, but sympathetic. Furthermore, he took us to his 
own house at Croix de Bouquet, mud-covered scarecrows 
that we were, and spread before us a superb breakfast of 
state — was he not king of the Cul-de-Sac? — with cut-glass 
decanters of rum, delicious and golden. Our friend Major 
Davis had an ingrown prejudice against sitting down at 
table with Haitians, whom he referred to collectively as 
“darkies” when he was in a good humor and “niggers” 
when in a less amiable mood, but I observed now that the 
rain and a salutary fasting had purged him of it. He 
clinked glasses with Kebreau, told him what a splendid 
chap he was, and we sat there for two hours lighting each 
other’s cigarettes, and growing more and more friendly. 

Now looking back on this adventure, lying in bed, miser- 
able and disappointed, recalling also pleasant subsequent 



meetings with Kebreau, I made up my mind definitely to 
go out and see him next morning, and did. 

After five minutes’ candid conversation with Kebreau, 
I realized I was encountering some sort of blind obstacle 
that had no direct connection either with the laws against 
Voodoo or his personal willingness to forget them, or with 
the fact that I was a white man. There was something else. 
He told me frankly that there was something, but concern- 
ing its precise nature he remained reticent. 

When I returned and reported this to Louis, a light grad- 
ually dawned on him. “Ahhh,” said he, and “Ahhh” again. 
“Moon dit President jour p li fache conf Kebreau^ li vie 
couper tele li” (People say President these days is angry 
against Kebreau and wishes to chop off his head). 

That afternoon I dropped in at headquarters to chat with 
General Turrill, chief of the Gendarmerie d’Hai'ti. Natu- 
rally I did not mention Voodoo, but in the course of our 
casual talk I said, “By the way, why has Borno got his ax 
out for Kebreau?” 

What a world of irrelevant causes and absurdly discon- 
nected eddying effects we blunder helplessly around in. 
Big events often upset smaller apple-carts, and it was an 
absurdly disconnected cause of this sort that had upset 
mine and Louis’. 

United States Senator Shipstead is just a name to me, 
which I may not be even spelling correctly. The Haitians 
called him Sheepstead, so I am guessing it would be that. 
He had come to Haiti on a junket, and Kebreau, so Gen- 
eral Turrill told me, had given a big rural barbecue in the 
senator’s honor. Kebreau, as I have explained, was more 
than an ordinary lieutenant of gendarmerie; he was a 
powerful politician. At this barbecue, sponsored by Kebreau, 
Senator Shipstead had made an “agricultural speech” to 
several hundred peasants. Apparently it was an old war- 
horse, the same sort of speech he must have made a hundred 



times at white barbecues in Iowa or wherever he hails from. 
It was about the importance of the small farmer, and con- 
tained reiterated phrases that were interpreted to mean, 
“Hold on to the land.” It sounded innocuous and may have 
been so intended, but at that moment in Haiti it was taken 
to be highly charged with specific local significance. The 
signing of a huge irrigation contract, backed by American 
capital, was pending, and President Borno, who believed 
in such developments, was eager to get it signed. But it in- 
volved either the purchase or confiscation of thousands of 
small farms, and Senator Shipstead, whose speech was 
quoted and made the text of fiery editorials in all the Op- 
position papers howling that Borno was in league with Wall 
Street to dispossess and rob his own peasants — Senator Ship- 
stead, the General told me, grinning (he was an old Marine 
Corps former fighting colonel who didn’t give a hoot in 
hell for politics), had thrown a monkey wrench in the 

President Borno was highly indignant, the General con- 
tinued, and Kebreau, whom he held somewhat to blame, 
was going to have to watch his step very carefully for the 
next month or so. It was reported that the President had 
even sent his private spies into the Cul-de-Sac seeking to 
“hang something” on him which would justify an execu- 
tive demand that he be kicked out of the service. 

If I had ever read the newspapers, or taken any interest 
in politics, I might have already known most of this and 
guessed the rest. When I walked out of General Turrill’s 
office, I knew that luck had broken against me. 

One of my reasons for recounting this chronicle of dis- 
appointment in such detail is that it may throw an inter- 
esting sidelight on the legal status of Voodoo in Haiti 
today; another is that certain otherwise friendly and more 
than generous reviewers found what they called my “con- 
tinuous good luck” in the Arabian desert a bit monotonous 

“Maman Celie, high priestess of the mysteries.” 



and too marvelous. But I suffered a hundred untold disap- 
pointments and obstacles that had to be deviously circum- 
vented in Arabia. And I feel it best, therefore, to confess 
that I suffered many similar disappointments in Haiti be- 
fore I finally reached my goal. 

Louis’ influence did not extend beyond his natal village 
in the plain, and my path eventually led up into the moun- 
tains. But it was Louis who had set my feet in it. Through 
him and his uncle Dort I began to understand more defi- 
nitely what I sought, was able to avoid certain pitfalls, and 
Louis has my gratitude. Even so, with many a false start 
and wrong direction, my path was “roundabout” like Peer 
Gynt’s, and more than once the Great Boyg barred it. The 
trail led me once through deep ravines in which the sun 
never shone, thence winding narrowly up the edge of a sheer 
cliff to the door of a little man with a wizened face, a fa- 
mous little man, a sort of Voodoo hermit-saint, who could 
have wisely taught me all I wished to know, and more, but 
who sneered at my sincerity and said, “There is no such 
thing as Voodoo; it is a silly lie invented by you whites to 
injure us.” Saints are not always amiable. It led once be- 
yond the clouds on Morne Diable to a village whose in- 
habitants had seen no white face for eight years, and though 
on that occasion I rode with a doctor whose welcome reme- 
dies were freely given them, and though they entertained 
us hospitably for the night, when we arose next morning 
to go higher up the mountain, they laid hands on our bridles 
without violence, and said, “It is forbidden.” And once 
I fled, after being offered hospitality, from the habitation of 
a leering, evil old woman, full of too eager promises, with 
greedy fingers already clutching at my pocketbook, who 
would have cut her own daughter’s throat to oblige me, for 
a price. But also I made friends, occasionally saw strange 
sights, and there were habitations oft returned to where I 
became known and welcome. 

Chapter III 


Finally I went to live with Maman Celie. 

I had come for an earlier first visit weeks before, not 
entirely as a stranger, to this remote, patriarchal habitation 
in the mountains, sponsored by a man whom they trusted, 
and made welcome because I was his friend. But now, on 
Maman Celie’s own suggestion, I had returned alone. 

Between Maman Celie and me there was a bond which I 
cannot analyze or hope to make others understand because 
in my innermost self its roots went deep beyond analysis 
or conscious reasoning. We had both felt it almost from our 
first contact. It was as if we had known each other always, 
had been at some past time united by the mystical equiv- 
alent of an umbilical cord; as if I had suckled in infancy 
at her dark breasts, had wandered far, and was now return- 
ing home. 

Such mysterious returnings to a place where one has 
never been ; such strange familiarness of a face that one has 
never seen ; I think these things are within the secret experi- 
ence of almost every human being, but if one has not at 
some time felt them, they cannot be explained. 

This habitation, lost in the high mountains, was primi- 
tive and patriarchal. There were half a dozen thatch-roofed 
buildings in the cleared compound; the little community 
was ruled by Maman Celie and Papa Theodore, her vener- 
able, less active husband; its members were their grown 
sons and daughters, their grandchildren naked from baby- 
hood to puberty, playing in the sunshine among the pigs 




and goats; the oldest son, Emanuel, was past forty; the 
youngest unmarried daughter, Catherine, was sixteen. 
Maman Celie herself I guessed to be far past sixty. Her 
sweet black face, like that of an old prophetess, was deeply 
wrinkled, but her thinness and straightness, her vitality, 
made her seem sometimes curiously young. 

Patches of corn, millet, and cotton clung farther down- 
ward, above the jungle line, on the mountainside; a full 
mile below in a green jungle valley were their plantains, 
banana trees, cocoanut palms, and the clear spring with its 
rivulet from which donkeys toiled upward, festooned with 
calabash bottles like ambulant bunches of gigantic yellow 
grapes, often with children in procession single file behind, 
each with water-filled calabash balanced on his head. 

Many paths led from this spring, winding down over 
the mountains and far away, but the path to Maman 
Celie’s led upward only to our habitation and ended there. 
The next nearest family community was on the other side 
of a deep, mile-wide gorge; we counted them friends and 
neighbors ; we could hear their cocks crowing at dawn, their 
dogs barking in the evening, and when darkness fell we 
could see their cook-fires burning; on the drums we could 
say to them across the chasm, “Come on such and such a 
day,” or “Expect us on such another,” exchanging simple 
messages ; but to reach their habitation, scarcely a mile dis- 
tant as the birds flew, we had to journey seven miles around, 
down past the spring where the bare gorge narrowed to be- 
come a fertile valley, and then up again on the other side, 
regaining the lost altitude. 

Thus we were isolated, not only from the organized 
world down yonder — the nearest gendarme post, chapel, 
rural clinic, market, were a long day’s journey beyond an- 
other range — but even somewhat from our neighbors, of 
whom there were perhaps fifty little family communities 
scattered far and wide on our own mountain. 



Almost every day, despite our isolation, some of these 
neighbors trailed up from the common spring, sometimes on 
donkey-back, more usually in procession afoot, family visit- 
ing family ; but strangers never came. 

So far as the world of urban Port-au-Prince and Ameri- 
canized Haiti was concerned, I might have been on another 
planet. Yet I do not wish to exaggerate this isolation. Both 
Maman Celie and Papa Theodore had been down there. 
They still went perhaps once a year. She went once, in fact, 
while I was living among them, being gone nearly a week, 
but that was a very special journey. In general, this moun- 
tain-inelosed life went on as if no Port-au-Prince existed. 

It was a life I enjoyed, and they let me share it simply, 
from day to day. I learned to make tamhors marenguin 
(mosquito-drums, so called, though they were stringed in- 
struments of which the mechanical contrivance had sur- 
vived from Africa) with the brats who were still a little 
afraid of me because of my white face. I rode often with 
Emanuel and Rafael, once trying with them to explore the 
bottom of the gorge. I sometimes lent a hand with them in 
the fields, if green checker-board squares tilted at an angle 
of forty-five degrees ean properly be called fields ; and in the 
evenings I sat with the rest of the circle while Papa Theo- 
dore asked riddles, or told tales of how a wily little negro 
named Ti Malice, a favorite character in all their fables, 
had locked up Gros Bouqui in the potato garden, or how he 
saved his own skin at the expense of Bouqui when they fell 
among cannibals. Many of these tales were of Congo origin, 
sometimes modified to the West Indian locale, and some- 
times not. 

All this I found delightful, but between Maman Celie 
and me there was something deeper, which grew. I knew, 
of eourse, that she was a mamaloi. I knew also that the 
largest building of the habitation, the only one with locked 
door, was a houfnfort. She knew likewise that I was pro- 



foundly interested in the religion in which she was an active 
priestess. And she also understood quite definitely that I 
wished to write about it. There was complete candor and 
confidence between us. She herself could neither read nor 
write, but she was keenly intelligent and understood clearly 
what I was and what books were. She understood, further- 
more, instinctively, that there was no latent intention of 
betrayal,^ that whatever I might write would not be with 
intent to do them harm. Instinctively she knew that what- 
ever might grow tree-like from my interest, its roots were 
buried in soil common to us both. 

We talked frequently of the things I had heard first from 
Louis beneath the palm tree, but Maman Celie made haste 
slowly. She sometimes said to me, “Petit, petitP meaning 
little by little, or step by step. Perhaps she was wisely wait- 
ing until the people of the mountain became thoroughly 
accustomed to my presence. And finally one day, she said, 
“There is to be a big, big Petro ^ ceremonial on Saturday 
and Sunday over yonder at the habitation of Theodore’s 
brother Ernest; all the mountain will be there, and it is 
understood you are coming too.” 

Papa Theodore rode in the forefront of our cavalcade, 
along the narrow trail that wound between inclosing rocky 
defiles, emerging to follow the edge of the cliff, descending 
through forests of great sablier trees with their spiked 

1 Voodoo is not a secret cult or society in the sense that Freemasonry 
or the Rosicrucian cult is secret ; it is a religion, and secret only as Qiris- 
tianity was secret in the catacombs, through fear of persecution. Like 
every living religion it has its inner mysteries, but that is secretness in a 
different sense. It is a religion toward which whites generally have been 
either scoffers, spyers, or active enemies, and whose adherents therefore 
have been forced to practice secrecy, above all where whites were con- 
cerned. But there is no fixed rule of their religion pledging them to secrecy, 
and Maman Celie was abrogating nothing more than a protective custom 
when she gave me her confidence. 

^ See Appendix, page 295. 



trunks, mahogany and towering pines. Behind him rode 
Maman Celie on a donkey, and I rode third, while Emanuel, 
Rafael, Marie-Celeste, Catherine, others of the family, fol- 
lowed single file, afoot. Emilie, six months pregnant, rode 
on a basket-laden donkey. 

It was Saturday midafternoon. 

In the air all round us, everywhere and nowhere, I be- 
came conscious of a steady, slow “boom . . . boom . . . 
boom . . . boom.” It seemed sometimes to come from a 
great distance, like rolling, far-off thunder beyond hidden 
valleys and over mountains far away; it seemed sometimes 
to be low and close at hand, just beyond the next turning; 
at moments it seemed inside my own head or in my veins 
like a pulse beating. As we rode farther and the afternoon 
waned, this steady booming, now louder and closer, became 
complicated by a hitherto inaudible under-rhythm, an in- 
cessant throbbing woven and interwoven around a simple 
basic motif that emerged thus: 

J = ieo 



0 0 0 =1— 


r-- f - — 

^ MMTlI 

1 1 — — 



r-9 — = = = 


H — 

_p — 

It was not syncopation. It was not remotely like jazz. It 
was pure counterpoint like a Bach fugue except that the 
core of it was slow, unhurried, relentless. There was some- 
thing cosmic in it like the rolling of mighty waters. There 
was something humanly savage and primitive too in its 
relentlessness, as darkness inclosed us and lights began to 
glimmer red up yonder at the head of the gorge. 

The habitation to which we came was a compound, un- 
fenced, on a plateau overhanging the gorge, hemmed in by 



the forest. There were assembled already perhaps a hundred 
negroes, crowding, moving about like shadows in the red- 
flickering lights. There were three or four scattered houses, 
and in the central forefront of the compound was a big 
open tunnelle — the word is misleading, but there is no 
English equivalent for it. It was a great awning-like roof- 
canopy, rectangular, of straw thatching, erected on poles. 
In a corner beneath it were the three drummers, drumming.® 
The man with the tall central drum used one stick and the 
hard heel of his right palm, which produced the deepest 
note; the other two with the smaller drums used their hands 
with virtuoso-like varied rapidity, the flat palm, the 
bunched, hard tips of their fingers, the fisted knuckles, the 
rosin-coated thumb drawn across the drumhead, which then 
emitted a bull-roaring zooming. An old woman stood by and 
from time to time wiped the sweat from their faces. It was 
deafening, close at hand, and yet in a curious way seemed 
not so thunderous as it had from a couple of hundred yards 
distant down the trail. 

Some of the black faces and whitened mud-walls stood 
out in high lights; other parts of the compound were in 
dark shadow. We of the family entered Ernest’s house for 
coffee, and then I walked about in the crowd with Maman 
Celie. There was no one who had not either met or heard 
definitely of me, and my presence seemed taken for granted. 
Many greeted me. 

A bright moon was now rising over the mountains, and 
the ceremony was presently to commence. The drums ceased, 
and for the first time I heard the intermittent bleating of 
tethered goats. 

We ranged ourselves family with family, but serried in 
close rows, as people sit in church, except that there were 
no benches. We assembled seated on the ground before the 
tunnelle; I sat between Maman Celie and Rafael in a fore- 
most row, all of us facing the tunnelle and the drums. 

® See Appendix, page 300. 



The drums began a new, less deafening rhythm. It was 
the Damballa ritual march. Its base motif was thus: 

J. = ioo 
Drum p 

J n ^ • • 

9 • • • • 


U .V « 1 



) n 

i [ — ! 


sf a repeat \ 

|y ^ • • 

, , . -1 


■ 1 ■ ' ' 1 ■ 1 1 1 1 


1 ! L .] 

L A J 


The celebrants approached, processionally, singing, from 
the mystery house. At the head came the papaloi, an old 
man, blue-overalled, bare-footed, but with a surplice over 
his shoulders and a red turban on his head, waving before 
him the a^on, a gourd-rattle wound round with snake-ver- 
tebrte. At his right and left, keeping pace with him, two 
young women held aloft, crossed above his head, two flags 
on which were serpentine and cabalistic symbols, sewn on 
with metallic, glittering beads. Behind him marched a 
young man bearing aloft, horizontally on his upstretched 
palms, a sword, and next the mamaloi^ a woman in a scarlet 
robe and feathered headdress, who revolved as she prog- 
ressed in a sort of dervish dance ; next came marching, two 
and two, a chorus of twenty or more women robed in white, 
with white cloths wound bandana-wise on their heads, and 
as they slowly marched they chanted : 

Damballa Oueddo, 

Nous p’ vinid 

It would be best translated, I think, “Oh, Serpent God, we 
come.” ® 

^ See Appendix, page 302. 

® Although Damballa, the ancient African Serpent god, remains en- 
throned as its central figure, this Voodoo ceremony is not the old traditional 
ritual brought over from Africa, but rather a gradually formalized new 
ritual which sprang from the merging in earliest slave days of the African 

" . . . the inainaloi in a scarlet robe.’" 



The papaloi stands beneath the tunnelle^ facing us, the 
chorus of women sits in a semicircle at his right, a chorus 
of men forms on his left, the mamaloi whirls dancing be- 
fore the drums, which cease as she falls prostrate. 

Amid absolute silence, the papaloi says solemnly: “Solef 
leve nan Vest; li couche Ian Guinea” (The sun rises in the 
east and sets in Guinea). 

This is the pronouncement of one of the Voodoo nature- 
mysteries. They have no conception of the earth as a re- 
volving globe. They know that Guinea — their only name 
for Africa — lies eastward, and that the sun sinks in the op- 
posite direction, in the west. Yet each morning it arises 
again out of Guinea, and therefore must, in some myste- 
rious way, have returned there. And the secret route it 
travels symbolizes for them the path by which their own 
souls go out of their living bodies, in the trance state, and 
are carried away by the lots — a sort of Holy-Ghost-like 

tradition with the Roman Catholic ritual, into which faith the slaves were 
all baptized by law, and whose teachings and ceremonials they will- 
ingly embraced, without any element of intended blasphemy or diabolism, 
incorporating modified parts of Catholic ritual — as for instance the vest- 
ments and the processional — into their Voodoo ceremonials, just as they 
incorporated its Father, Son, Virgin, and saints in their pantheistic theology. 
Thus indeed all new religions are formed. Fully half the ritual and much 
of the symbolism of Judaism and Christianity were borrowed from earlier 
pagan faiths. The cross itself was a sacred symbol before Qirist ever 
died upon it. And these blacks who were brought over from Africa with 
their own religion, older far than Christianity, were perhaps taking back 
transformed symbols and ritual practices which had originally been bor- 
rowed from their own continent when Moses led Israel out of Egypt. I 
am contributing nothing new in telling that a crucifix stands today on every 
Voodoo altar in Haiti. That fact is well known, for houmforts have been 
raided. But the presence of the crucifix has been generally misunderstood. 
Christian priests have imagined that it involved diabolic and deliberate 
desecration, as when adherents of the Black Mass, worshiping the devil, 
turn the cross upside down and spit upon it and recite the Credo backward, 
mingled with obscenities. They have therefore cried horror and blasphemy 
and demanded that the houmforts be burned, never understanding that the 
crucifix transplanted to the Voodoo altar is reverenced and held sacred 
there as it was in the cathedral. True, it becomes the symbol not of the God 
but rather of one god among many, and this in the eyes of some will con- 
stitute, I suppose, an almost equally deplorable sacrilege. 



emanation from their divinities — to other worlds. “Li nans 
Guinea!'' (He is in Guinea), they say always of a person 
stricken into that ecstatic trance. 

In response to the priest all sing, including the swaying 
crowd ; 

Cote solei leve? 

Li leve nans Lest. 

Cote solei couche? 

Li couche Ians Guinea! 

(Whence does the sun rise 9 

It rises in the east. 

Where does the sun set? 

It sets in Guinea !) 

Now from the mystery house was led processionally a 
small black bull, adorned for the sacrifice. And with what a 
catching of the breath I saw that there were lighted candles 
on its horns as Louis had foretold, that it was robed and 
garlanded and glittering! 

The bull now stood dazed on a low platform which had 
been dragged meanwhile beneath the tunnelle^ and we all 
knelt before it, while the women clothed in white chanted 
a wailing, symphonic choral, repeating endlessly the words, 
“M under on pardon''' (O Lord, forgive our sins). 

The bull had become a god or the symbol of a god.® 

The wailing chant, the throbbing drums, the miraculous 

® In The Bacchac of Euripides, the frenzied women of Thebes who tore 
Pentheus limb from limb when he spied upon the celebration of their 
mysteries in a mountain gorge, worshiped Dionysus in the form of a 
serpent and bull, and “the Orphic congregations of later times, in their 
most holy gatherings, solemnly partook of the blood of a bull, which was, 
by a mystery, the blood of Dionysus-Zagreus himself, the ‘Bull of God,’ 
slain in sacrifice for the purification of man.” See Gilbert Murray’s notes on 
The Bacchae. These Voodoo worshipers retained their bull and serpent 
symbolism from African jungle rites older than the Greek mythology, but 
the double parallel is interesting. 



aliveness of their own belief in wonders to be manifested; 
the unearthly quality of the great, pale, moon-flooded moun- 
tain slopes that towered to the stars, the ghostly ravines 
and gorges that dropped down to blackness ; the red-flicker- 
ing torches close at hand — all this I remember now as a 
sort of dream, still more vivid, after a year has passed, than 
most waking memories. Yet if I should chance to live for 
twenty years longer, that general memory-picture may fade 
gradually. But there is one small thing tangled in with this, 
acid-etched so deeply that it will leave some lines, I think, 
when my brain lies rotting. It was simple; yet I find it 
almost impossible to tell. It was the sound of the terrorized, 
shrill bleating of the white he-goats, tethered out there in 
the shadows, as it pierced through yet was always domi- 
nated, sometimes drowned, by the symphonic female howl- 
ing choral of the women. It caused something that was 
elemental male in me, something deeper than anything that 
the word sex usually defines, to shiver in the grip of an 
answering, icy terror. Nor had this any remote connection 
with the fact that I, a white man, knelt there among these 
swaying blacks who would presently become blood-frenzied. 
They were my friends. It was a terror of something blacker 
and more implacable than they — a terror of the dark, all- 
engulfing womb. 

But I forget that I am writing the description of a Voodoo 
ceremonial in the Haitian mountains, and that excursions 
among the terrors aroused by elemental nightmares in my 
own soul are an. unwarranted interruption. 

As the sacrificial beasts, goats, kids, sheep, were dragged 
into the tunnelle^ the women’s choral ceased and a mighty 
chant arose from every throat: 

Damballa Oueddo, 

Ou couleuvre moins! 

(Damballa Oueddo, our great Serpent-God.) 


During an interval, a woman in misery sang alone: 

Pas ’]oudhui mains gagnin chemin; 

Damballa, mains bien prete. 

Mains pas 'river. 

(It is not today that I will find the path. Damballa, I am ready, 
but the road is barred.) 

I had become gradually aware of an increasing under- 
current of group fear among them, which now outwardly 
manifested itself in their chants, a fear of their own old, 
deadly jungle gods, a fear that the blood of beasts alone 
might not avail: 

Ogoun Badagris, 

Qua manger viande mains, 

Qua quitter zas pour demain? 

Me mander ga ou fais mains? 

La vie moins est la. 

(Ogoun Badagris, will you devour my flesh, and leave my bones 
for the morrow ? I ask what are you going to do with me ? My life 
is in your hands.) 

And they sang also : 

Zandor, pinga manger petit mains! 

Zander, connais moon par ou! 

(Zandor, do not eat my child! Zandor, know your own people.) 

It seemed to me presently that in expressing their fears, 
they somewhat allayed them, that they writhed gradually 
less in agony, and the harmony was less somber, when they 
chanted : 

Maitresse Ezilee, vini 'gider nous. 
Si ou mander poule, me bai ou. 



Si ou mander cabrit, me bai ou. 

Si ou mander bef, me bai ou. 

Si ou mander cabrit sans cor\ 

Cote me prerd pr bai ou? 

(Maitresse Ezilee, come and aid us. If a cock is demanded, we will 
give it. If a goat is demanded, it is here. If a bull will suffice, behold 
it. But if a goat without horns — a human being — is required for 
sacrifice, oh, where will we find one?) 

They were supplicating Maitresse Ezilee, who is the 
Virgin Mary, to intercede with the old African gods, and 
make them content with the substitution of animal sacrifice 
for human. 

This supplication was followed immediately by a pe- 
culiar dance done by the mamaloi alone, to the accompani- 
ment of a powerfully accentuated drum rhythm which went 

J =44 









it c a e & a a 

i- f/^ V A , . . . ' 



^ ~ 1 1 1 

1 L 

The first three full notes were slow, heavy, explosive 
booms, and the triplet came as a whirring, light splutter at 
the end. At each slow “boom,” the priestess, holding herself 
straight and rigid as a lance, yet managed to leap upward 
like a jack-in-the-box or a figure propelled from a spring- 
board. At the moments when the whirring triplet recurred, 
she stood rigid instead of leaping, and a galvanic shudder 
trembled through her stiff body. 

Preparation for the sacrifices, meanwhile, went rapidly 
forward. A long wooden trough, carved from a tree-trunk, 
was borne in, coffin-wise, by four men and deposited on the 
low platform in front of the glittering and bedizened bull. 
Big wooden bowls, and heavy, common china cups were 
also brought, and a machete. 



Neither in these preparations nor in any part of the all- 
night ceremonial did Maman Celie take active official part, 
though I knew that she was the chief mamaloi of those 
mountains. Throughout it all, she remained close beside 
me. I was destined to see her red-robed finally, but not upon 
this night. 

In the actual slaying of the sacrificial beasts which now 
began, accompanied by deep chanting, there was no sav- 
agery, no needless cruelty, no lust of killing. It was a solemn, 
ritual business, though when once begun it moved swiftly. 
A goat was held by the horns, the sharp-edged machete 
drawn across its throat by the papaloi^ and the blood gushed 
into a wooden bowl held by the mamaloi^ who poured it 
into the great empty trough before the bull, while the body 
v/as tossed out into the shadows. Thus, in turn, the goats 
and sheep were slain. 

And now the bull, before whom, deified, this blood of 
other beasts had been poured out as an offering, must also 
die. It was the old riddle of the dying god made carnate 
and sacrificed miraculously to appease his own bloody god- 
head. Is it any wonder that the African ancestors of these 
worshipers, with such traditions of their own, had accepted 
also the Hebrew-Syriac version of this age-old riddle taught 
them by the early colonial Christian priests'? 

For this ultimate sacrifice, the sword was used. Four men 
with straining muscles sought to uphold the bull, to keep 
it upright as if it had been a tottering brazen idol, to pre- 
vent it from sinking down even in its death-throes, as the 
papaloi plunged the long, pointed blade beneath the bull’s 
shoulder and through its heart. With a deep, choked bellow 
the bull sagged quivering to its knees, and was held thus 
by the straining men. The blood did not gush fountain-like 
as it had from the cut throats of the goats; it spurted in a 
hard, small stream from the bull’s pierced side, where the 
mamaloi knelt with her bowl to receive it and transferred it 
bowl by bowl to the great common trough. 



The papaloi and mamaloi now both drank ceremonially 
of the holy blood, and then amid the crescendo excitement 
and surging forward of the worshipers, the twenty women 
robed in white danced, leaping and whirling in a group like 
frenzied maenads, led by the mamaloi^ while the priest now 
performed his purifying office, asperged them all, sprinkled 
them, deluged them, until their white turbans and the shoul- 
ders of their robes turned crimson. The worshipers, crowd- 
ing now and frenzied, yet managed to respect a space in 
which these women danced, until the priest cried, “All the 
world approach,” and the crowd milled before the altar to 
be sprinkled by the cleansing sacrificial blood. And brim- 
ming cups dipped up by the papaloi were now passed spill- 
ing from hand to hand, all madly eager, after tasting it 
themselves, to gain merit with the gods by passing it to the 
hands of others who might share it; thus, though a pande- 
monium, it was in the literal sense of the word a “com- 
munion,” a sharing. 

From this swirling, milling ceremony of purification, 
figures leaped out dancing and screaming glory; here and 
there in the crown a still higher, shriller, more unearthly 
shriek announced the pentecostal, invisible, yet flame-like 
descent of the lois, spirits of the gods and of the mysteres, 
entering the bodies of individual dancers. This final phe- 
nomenon of ultimate and overwhelming religious ecstasy, 
as I observed it at this and at other Voodoo eeremonials 
seen subsequently, never became general or contagious. 
True, the entire crowd was now becoming frenzied and 
ecstatic, but they remained themselves in ecstasy. This other 
force, which struck a few separate individuals here and there 
like lightning, swept all self away, and those thus stricken 
became actually, in the technical, religious sense of the 
word, possessed. No need for me to insist here on the abso- 
lute subjective reality of this phenomenon. It has been 
common to all religions during periods of deep, mystical 



Not more than a dozen or at most fifteen scattering in- 
dividuals that night experienced personally this ultimate 
and self-destroying illumination, but the coming of the lois 
was a signal to all that the gods had been appeased, and 
were propitiously disposed, so that they could abandon 
themselves without fear to joyous, savage exultation. 

And now the literary-traditional white stranger who spied 
from hiding in the forest, had such a one lurked near by, 
would have seen all the wildest tales of Voodoo fiction 
justified : in the red light of torches which made the moon 
turn pale, leaping, screaming, writhing black bodies, blood- 
maddened, sex-maddened, god-maddened, drunken, whirled 
and danced their dark saturnalia, heads thrown weirdly 
back as if their necks v/ere broken, white teeth and eyeballs 
gleaming, while couples seizing one another from time to 
time fled from the circle, as if pursued by furies, into the 
forest to share and slake their ecstasy. 

Thus also my unspying eyes beheld this scene in actual- 
ity, but I did not experience the revulsion which literary 
tradition prescribes. It was savage and abandoned, but it 
seemed to me magnificent and not devoid of a certain 
beauty. Something inside myself awoke and responded to 
it. These, of course, were individual emotional reactions, 
perhaps deplorable in a supposedly civilized person. But I 
believe that the thing itself — their thing, I mean — is ration- 
ally defensible. Of what use is any life without its emo- 
tional moments or hours of ecstasy? They were reaching 
collective ecstasy by paths which were not intrinsically pe- 
culiar to their jungle ancestors, but which have been fol- 
lowed by many peoples, some highly civilized, from the 
earliest ages, and will be followed to the end of time or 
until we all become mechanical, soulless robots. It is not 
necessary to look backward to the Dionysian orgies, the bac- 
chanalia, the rites of Adonis, or frenzied David dancing 
before the Ark of the Covenant. What, after all, were they 
doing here in these final scenes, when formal ritual had 

. . blood-maddened, sex-maddened, god- 
maddened . . . danced their dark saturnalia.” 



ended, that was so different from things which occur in our 
own fashionable and expensive night clubs, except that they 
were doing it with the sanction of their gods and doing it 
more successfully? Savage rhythm, alcohol, and sex excite- 
ment — yet there was an essential difference, for here was a 
mysterious something superadded. Lasciviousness became 
lust, which is a cleaner thing, and neurotic excitement be- 
came authentic ecstasy, the “divine frenzy” of the ancients. 
There is nothing so stupid and pathetic as an orgy that 
doesn’t quite come off. Perhaps there is a deep mystical 
truth in the saying attributed to a much-misunderstood 
voice, “Whatever ye do, do it in My name.” Perhaps if we 
mixed a little true sacrificial blood in our synthetic cocktails 
and flavored them prayerfully with holy fire, our night 
clubs would be more orgiastically successful and become 
sacred as temples were in the days of Priapus and Aphro- 

Here certainly in these mountains, where sacrificial blood 
flowed free and all things were done in the name of the 
gods, the gods magnificently descended. 

Next day there was feasting on the bodies of the slain 
beasts, barbecued whole, or cut up and cooked in iron pots. 
Nobody felt like going home. Some, still exhausted, danced, 
not the mad Rada of the night, but boisterous, gay Congo 
dances. It was a time of rejoicing. Everybody was more or 
less drunken, including Maman Celie. 

I notice I have been continually writing “they,” using 
the time-honored pronoun employed by so many otherwise 
veracious and candid traveler-authors when describing wild 
happenings which they feel may be regarded dubiously hj 
sisters and aunts back home. Very well : the truth. I drank 
like the rest, when the bottles were passed my way. I did 
willingly all else that Maman Celie told me, and now with 
good appetite stuffed myself with goat flesh and washed 
down the meats with more white rum, and dozed, replete 



and vastly contented, in the bright sunshine. It was for this 
I had come to Haiti. It concerned me personally. It justified 
something in my soul. I cared not if I never wrote a book. 
I merely wondered, without worrying — since it is impos- 
sible ever to be utterly content — how soon Maman Celie 
would take me inside her lioumfort. 

Chapter IV 

THE “oUANGA” charm 

“Go bring me a humming bird,” said Maman Celie, “and 
we’ll see what can be done.” 

She was talking to her tall grandson, Paul, Emanuel’s 
boy, who had been moping about the habitation for days 
because a young, high-breasted black damsel down by the 
spring, who seemed to him more desirable than all the other 
young black damsels on the mountain, had tossed her 
crinkly head and sent him about his business. 

It was through this idyllic episode of the humming bird 
that I discovered Maman Celie to be a sorceress, as well as a 
priestess of Voodoo. The two functions do not necessarily 

It seemed to me, however, that she had set her grandson 
a somewhat difficult task. I had seen humming birds occa- 
sionally down yonder among the tropical flowers and fig- 
banana groves, tiny, fragile, iridescent, darting sprites, as 
incorporeal as soap-bubbles, as swift to disappear at a 
threatened touch. To catch one of them seemed almost as 
difficult as trapping a sunbeam. I knew vaguely that nat- 
uralists made use of delicate and cunningly constructed 
nets, and I had heard with equal vagueness of tiny shot- 
guns spraying microscopic pellets, but Paul was equipped 
only with his natural wits. 

Next day he returned with the humming bird. He had 
trapped it with a sort of birdlime made of a sticky, gummy 
sap. It was already dead and Maman Celie hung it up to 
dry in the sunshine. Meanwhile she persuaded Paul to 
show me, reluctantly, a former love-charm she had fabri- 




cated for him, but which apparently had failed of its pur- 1 
pose, though he still wore it next his skin in a little sack j 
strung round his neck. She explained its construction and 
use. Two needles of equal length are stood upright, side I 
by side, baptized with suitable incantations, and are given j 
the names of the youth and his unwilling girl. The two in 
this particular case were called Paul and Ti-Marie. The 
needles are then left side by side, parallel but reversed, so 
that the point of each presses against the eye of the other. 
The point is symbolic of the phallus and the eye symbolic 
of the vulva. The reverse doubling simply increases the 
potency of the charm; it has no perverse significance. The 
needles are placed between twigs from the roots of the bois 
chica tree, whittled smooth and straight, and then wound 
round with thread. Like all charms of every sort in Haiti, 
it was called a ouanga. There are \o\t-ouangas, hate- 
ouangas, hxxth-ouangas, \)'^ot^ctA\t-ouangas, and murder- 
ouangas} Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. 
Apparently this one hadn’t worked, and Paul now cen- 
tered all his hopes in the humming bird. 

Aware of my curiosity about these matters, Maman Celie 
permitted me to see her make the new ouanga. It was a less 
weird, less eabalistic business than one might guess, though 
midnight and moonlight were in it, as she crouched, croon- 
ing her incantations, but there was nothing mysteriously 
dreadful. In a little wooden mortar, which they call pilon^ 
she ground the dried body of the humming bird into a dust- 
like powder, droning, “Wood of the woods, bird of the 
woods, woman you were created by God. Bird of the woods, 
fly into her heart. I command you in the name of the three 
Marys and in Ayida’s name. Do/or, Do/oH, passa.” There 
was much more of it, untranslatable and cryptic. And with 
the dried powder of the humming bird she mixed a few 
dried drops of her grandson’s blood, also of his semen, like- 
wise the pollen of jungle flowers. 

1 See Appendix, page 302. 



When all this had been duly ground together into dust- 
like fineness, she transferred it to a leather pouch made (as 
Spanish shepherds often do to hold their love-charms) from 
the scrotum of a he-goat, and gave it to Paul next day. 

1 was told, for I did not see it, that on the following 
Saturday evening, at the danse Congo^ as Ti-Marie swayed 
past him laughing, he threw the dust full in her face, and 
that half blinded, with the dust in her eyes and nostrils and 
mouth, she spat like a young wildcat, and cried out that she 
would kill him — but she lay with him that night in the 
forest, and on Monday morning he fetched her home. 
Doubtless a deeper magic than Maman Celie’s was also at 
work, but I think it would be a mistake to assume a priori 
that without Maman Celie’s incantations and the humming 
bird, Ti-Marie would have yielded. 

There were two other occasions when I saw her magic 
work effectively. I saw her, by processes which she con- 
sidered magical, cure a dying girl ^ and catch a thief.® She 
said and believed that it was magic. Words are merely 
labels, and we do not always explain the inner essence of 
things by rejecting the old labels and inventing new ones. 
The Lady of Shalott gazed in her crystal mirror to behold 
scenes far away, and that was sorcery; now we experiment 
with Television, and that is science. The Witch of Endor 
was a witch, but Svengali is a hypnotist. Old Nostradamus 
working over his crucibles called it alchemy when he sought 
to transform lead to gold, but now the Germans are engaged 
in the same experiment and call it advanced chemistry. I 
realize that there is a flaw in these parallels. But the scien- 
tific-minded Carrel, after his long stay at Lourdes, came 
away convinced that there were invisible powers unknown 
to any science at work there, and that the probable power 
of immaterial emanations to produce constructive or de- 

2 See Appendix, page 302. 

® See Appendix, page 306. 



structive changes in material substances, for instance the 
human body, was a thing which saints still knew more about 
than savants. When such things occur at holy shrines, they 
are called miracles; when they occur in a psychological 
laboratory, they are called science; when they occur in the 
Haitian jungle, they are called Voodoo magic. These words 
are all tags, labels, nothing more. Life and the forces of life 
remain shrouded in eternal mystery. 

Maman Celie’s sorcery was principally benevolent, as 
when she presently began gathering materials for the con- 
struction of a ouajiga packet for me — it seemed that I was 
to have one of my very own, like that of Louis, which was 
the first I had ever seen, down in my back yard at Port-au- 
Prince — and that it was to preserve me safe from all harm 
amid these mountains. It was to be used also, she told me, 
in the special ceremonial that would occur when I was 
finally led into the liout7ifort to face certain of the ultimate 
Voodoo mysteries. I would need it then, she assured me 

How much I believed in that ouanga packet, and in what 
manner I believed what I did believe, are questions diffi- 
cult to answer. I suspect that generally in such matters it 
is easier to believe in things which are sinister, perhaps dan- 
gerous, than it is to believe in things which are benevolent. 
It is always easier to fear ghosts, hobgoblins, and demons 
than it is to feel the hovering presence of guardian spirits. 
How many millions of people have been terrorized by 
ghosts and sworn trembling afterward to their reality, com- 
pared with the few score in the history of the world who, 
like Saint Augustine and Joan of Arc, have conversed with 
angels. I knew that certain other ouanga packets in this 
Voodoo sorcery, horridly devised, were sometimes as defi- 
nitely deadly as the murderer’s knife or poison. There is 
no question about that. Every white man who has lived long 
enough with primitive peoples, no matter what his hard 
scientific background, no matter how rational the texture 



of his mind, has come finally to an often reluctant admis- 
sion of the fact/ One may find the semi-scientific explana- 
tion of how so-called black magic can kill, in the fifteen 
volumes, more or less, of Frazer’s Golden Bough; the con- 
densed edition in two volumes has been emasculated. But 
if one has ever lived, I mean geographically, outside the 
limits of our well-ordered rule-of-thumb world where every 
effeet is politely assumed to trace back to respectably ex- 
plicable causes, it will scarcely be necessary to read Frazer 
to understand that I am not treating here of superstition. 
Superstition would have had naught to do with my fleeing 
from that mountain if word had come to my ears that these 
people were secretly contriving for me the black death- 
ouanga^ and even fleeing I might not have been safe. White 
men have died in London — and the records are in Scotland 
Yard — ^because some monk in the mountains of Thibet 
marked them to die, and sat droning in his far-off cell 
among the Himalayas. A subtle poison leaving no trace? 
Who knows? How can one be ever sure? 

But the ouanga packet they were now preparing to make 
for me was to be bright-colored, friendly and protective, and 
for those very reasons I found it more difficult to view it 
seriously, to separate it from obvious elements which were 
merely superstition. Yet had I not accepted it seriously I 
should have been wrong, for into its making went some- 
thing more than aromatic leaves and powders; into it went 
also the imponderable will-to-protect of a community, so 
that whatever it was or was not magically, it not only de- 
served respect but had an actual potency-value as the sacred 
symbol and earnest of their protection. 

It was the realization of this, I think, that enabled me 
to see, somewhat with their eyes, as more than mummery, 
the eeremony of this ouanga packet’s making. 

In a small, bare room inside Maman Celie’s dwelling- 
house, from which a sleeping-pallet and other common 

See Appendix, page 307. 



household gear had been removed, a large cowhide was 
spread, hairy side upward, on the earthen floor, and around 
it in a circle sat solemnly a dozen negroes whom I knew, 
mostly of our immediate household. There were eight men 
and four women. It was night time. The only light flickered 
upward on their faces from small candles arranged as a 
geometric pentagram on the cowhide. Barring the doorsill 
were two crossed machetes, their broad, naked blades in- 
scribed with white chalk symbols, the swirling serpent, the 
phallic staff, the enmeshed triangles. 

Spread in the center of the candle pentagram, on the cow- 
hide, was a square red cloth, like a napkin, which was to 
be the covering of my ouanga packet. Bright ribbons, red 
and yellow, lay beside it, and also feathers brilliantly dyed. 
In little, separated piles upon the cowhide were balsam 
leaves, leaves of the castor-bean plant, roots of the lime 
tree; a saucer of flour, a saucer of ashes, a bottle of clairin, 
a bottle of perfume, a tiny iron crucifix. 

Maman Celie and I sat on one side in the circle, Papa 
Theodore facing us. While they chanted almost in under- 
tones, “Papa Legba, ouvri barriere pour li; tout Mystere 
'gider li” (Legba, open the gate for him and every Mystery 
protect him), old Theodore took some of the roots and 
leaves, mixed them in a brazier, charred them over a fire 
now kindled on a plate before him, then pounded them to- 
gether in a mortar. The two machetes were taken from the 
doorsill and planted upright in the ground, flanking him 
on each side. A bocor (magician) filled his mouth with 
clairin and sprayed it, sputtering, over all the parapher- 
nalia on the cowhide, to drive away evil spirits. While Papa 
Theodore continued rhythmically pounding his materials in 
the mortar, the bocor began picking up balsam leaves and 
castor-bean leaves, one by one, marking each with a chalked 
cross and depositing it on the napkin, until a new pile was 
made there. Atop these leaves he now laid the crucifix, also 
a tuft of hair (tied together with thread) which had been 

“ — but marked for death by 
the Voodoo curse, they died.” 



cut previously from the central crown of my head; a paring 
from my right thumb-nail, and a small square cut from a 
shirt which had been worn next my skin.® Something of this 
sort runs through all primitive magic, whether the purpose 
be benevolent or evil. Articles intimately connected with the 
individual to be affected, a part of his own body such as 
hair or nail-paring if it can be procured, or a piece of cloth- 
ing saturated with his perspiration or grease, are used van;^ 
ously as a substitution for himself. One of the most dreaded 
forms of Haitian-African magic includes the dressing of a 
corpse in a garment of the person marked for vengeance and 
then exposing it to rot away in some secret place in the 
jungle. Men have gone stark mad seeking that jungle- 
hidden horror, and others have died hopelessly, searching. 
Fear, hunger, thirst, jungle-terror, one may say. Names 
again, tags, labels. But marked for death by the Voodoo 
curse, they died. In the case of the dLt2iXh.~ouanga packet, 
poisonous leaves are used with other corroding and defiling 
substances.® Frazer contends that for magic of this sort to 
operate fatally without supplementary human agency the 
victim must know and believe. Probably this is true. But in 
the case of unbelievers they sometimes make use of appall- 
ingly pragmatic methods to instill faith. I am told that 
when some years ago “Bank” Williams, the saturnine, 
cynical, fearless Yankee manager of the bank which is 
Haiti’s treasury, was thus marked for death, on one occa- 
sion a dog died in agony lapping pure water from the seem- 
ingly innocent clean bowl in which his morning coffee might 
have been poured had not the bowl been suspected, and on 
another occasion, deadly poison was found inside an egg 
whose shell had apparently never been broken. He survived, 
I am told, because he fought the devil with fire ; for weeks, 
until definite events made his death no longer desired, every 
particle of food that passed his lips, every garment that 

® See Appendix, page 308. 

® See Appendix, page 308. 



touched his skin, first went through the hands of an old 
wrinkled woman from Martinique who knew every trick | 
of black magic and served him with single-hearted fidelity. 

So there was an additional element beyond anything that 
could be connected with credulity, superstition, or a belief 
in supernormal agencies that caused in me this knowledge 
that Voodoo magic was pragmatically effective, whether for 
good or evil; that caused me to believe in a definite sense 
that this bright, protective charm which they were engaged 
in preparing for me now constituted a real and actual pro- i 
tection. There is a queer point involved here which I find 
difficulty in putting into words. It will doubtless seem to 
many readers superstitious when I aver that I actually be- 
lieve the protective virtue would have been destroyed in this 
charm unless I myself had faith in it. But, suppose I had sat 
there deeming their whole performance, well, say — silly, or 
funny? Suppose I had viewed it as futile, childish charlatan- 
ism? I do not mean, “Suppose I had laughed or sneered in 
their faces.” I do not mean anything as clearly defined as 
that. These people were intuitively sensitized to shades of 
unexpressed feeling, almost like animals. Is it sure that if I 
had felt a humorous or contemptuous scorn, even secret and 
unexpressed, I should have been as well protected by this 
ouanga, as safe thereafter among these people in the moun- 
tain? I tell you that my believing gave it power. And con- 
nected with this truth are many deep collateral truths con- 
cerning the power of all magic, miracles, and prayer. 

When Papa Theodore had finished pounding the charred 
aromatic herbs, the bocor took a pinch of the substance be- 
tween his fingers and sprinkled it, muttering incantations, 
on the pile of green leaves surmounted by the crucifix and 
the objects which had been a part of myself, of my living 
body. All arose, and slowly circling, took similarly a pinch 
of the charred mixture and sprinkled it. I, last of all, was 
instructed to do likewise. When we were reseated, the bocor, 
with a small glowing brand from the fire, touched off sue- 



cessively three little piles of gunpowder on the cowhide to 
drive away evil spirits; then he and Papa Theodore drew 
the two cabalistically marked machetes from the earth and 
clashed them violently together above all our heads. 

Maman Celie handed me a copper coin and instructed me 
to place it on the packet. And now, before it was tied up, 
she told me to make a prayer (wish). I hesitated, then stood 
with both arms stretched straight out before me, palms 
downward, as I had seen them do and said in English : 

“May Papa Legba, Maitresse Ezilee and the Serpent pro- 
tect me from misrepresenting these people, and give me 
power to write honestly of their mysterious religion, for all 
living faiths are sacred.” 

Chapter V 


On the afternoon of the Friday set for my blood baptism, 
more than fifty friends and relatives gathered at the habita- 
tion of Maman Celie. There was no reason to suppose that 
we might be disturbed, but as an extra precaution a gay 
danse Congo was immediately organized to cover the real 1 
purpose of our congregation. Maman Celie had told me that 
I would get no sleep that night; so despite the noise I ^ 
napped until after sunset, when she awakened me and led i 
me across the compound to the houmfort. 

Through its outer door, which Emanuel stood guarding ; 
like a sentinel and unlocked for us, we entered a dim, win- 
dowless, cell-like anteroom in which were tethered the sac- 
rificial beasts, a he-goat, two red cocks and two black, an ^ 
enormous white turkey, and a pair of doves. Huddled there 
in a corner also was the girl Catherine, Maman Celie’s 
youngest unmarried daughter; why she was there I did not 
know, and it is needless to say that I wondered. 

From this dim, somewhat sinister antechamber we passed 
through an open doorway into the long, rectangular mystery 
room, the temple proper, which was lighted with candles 
and primitive oil lamps that flickered like torches. Its clay 
walls were elaborately painted with crude serpent symbols ^ 
and anthropomorphic figures. Papa Legba, guardian of the 
gates, god of the crossroads, was represented as a venerable 
old black farmer with a pipe between his teeth; Ogoun 
Badagris, the bloody warrior, appeared as an old-time 
Haitian revolutionary general in uniform with a sword; 

1 See Appendix, page 310. 




V Wangol, master of the land, drove a yoke of oxen; Agoue, 
I master of the seas, puffed out his cheeks to blow a wind and 
I held in the hollow of his hand a tiny boat ; the serpent sym- 
t bols stood for the great Damballa Oueddo, almighty Jove 
I of the Voodoo pantheon, and his consort Ayida Oueddo. 

At the near end of the room, close to the doorway through 
which we had entered, was the wide, low altar, spread over 
. with a white lace tablecloth. In its center was a small 
. wooden serpent, elevated horizontally on a little pole as 
; Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; around this 
symbol, which was ancient before the Exodus, were grouped 
thunderstones, Christian crucifixes made in France or Ger- 
many, necklaces on which were strung snake vertebrae, 
others from which hung little medallions of the Virgin 
Mary. On the corner of the altar nearest me, my ouanga had 
been placed. Grouped also on the altar were earthen jugs 
f containing wine, water, oil ; platters of vegetables and fruits, 
plates containing common bread, and plates containing elab- 



orate sweet fancy cakes, bought days before down in the 
plain. There were bottles of expensive French-labeled 
grenadine and orgeat, a bottle of rum, kola-champagne, etc. 
There were also three cigars, not of the rough sort the peas- 
ants smoke, but fat and smooth in their red-gilt bands. 
With a naive but justifiable rationality, these worshipers, 
whose gods were vitally, utterly real, saw no anachronism 
in offering to their deities the best of everything that could 
be procured. Maman Celie herself, accompanied by Papa 
Theodore, had gone by narrow trails across mountains and 
valleys, leading a donkey down to the modern city, shop- 
ping there for their celestial guests and returning with the 
donkey’s panniers heavy laden. 

On the altar also was a cone-like mound of cornmeal 
surmounted by an egg, and before the altar candles were 
burning, and wicks floating in cocoanut shells of oil. At the 
left were the three Rada drums, at the right was a low 
wooden stool placed for me. 

At the other end of the mystery room, so that a ten-foot 
open space was left before the altar, were seated on the 
ground the eighteen or twenty people, all close relatives or 
trusted friends, who were to witness the ceremony. When I 
entered, they were swaying and singing: 

Papa Legba, ouvri harriere pour moins! 

Papa Legba, cote petits ou? 

Papa Legba, ou oue yo! 

Papa Legba, ouvri barriere pour li passer! 

(Father Legba, open wide the gate! 

Father Legba, where are thy children? 

Father Legba, we are here. 

Father Legba, open wide the gate that he may pass !) 

The papaloi, a powerful clean-shaven black man of 
middle age with red turban and a bright-colored embroid- 


ered stole over his shoulders, traced with cornmeal this 
cabalistic design on the bare earth before the altar: 

/ i 


r Y 


It measured perhaps twelve feet from end to end. The 
circles, it was afterward explained to me, represented, from 
I left to right, earth, sky, and sea. (Adepts of the esoteric 
I will read here earth, air, and water, or if of a certain school 
I will read earth, air, fire, and water, accepting the central 
t sky-circle as a symbol also of the sun.) All these matters 
indeed entered into it, but the simpler interpretation was 
dominant. The forked marks, all connecting, with lines 
interjcining them with the three circles, thence radiating 
I toward the altar and reversely toward the worshipers, were 
symbols of the invisible paths through which the gods and 
mysteries would move. 

Into the earth circle the papaloi poured oil, flour, and 
wine, while the people chanted, “W angol ?nait" la terre’^ 
(Wangol is master of the earth). Into the sky circle he 
poured rum and ashes, while they chanted, “Da??ihalla 
Oueddo, ou maif la del” (Damballa Oueddo, thou art mas- 
ter of the sky). Into the sea circle he poured water, while 
they sang, “Papa Agoue^ li maif la mer” (Father Agoue, he 
is master of the sea) . 

A number of solos interspersed this general chanting. It 
was impossible to retain them all in memory. I could not 
make pencil notes there; not even Maman Celie was able 
afterward to repeat them all for me, and the next day some 
of the singers were gone. There was one song to Papa 



Agoue, however, which I partly remembered because it had 
seemed to m.e beautiful, and later I rode to find the singer 
and transcribe it. It was: 

Agoue, woyo! woyo! 

Malt’ Agoue reter Ians la mer; 

Li tirer canot. 

B as sin ble 

Reter toi zilet; 

Neg coqui’ Ians mer zorage; 

Li tirer canot la. 

Agoue, woyo! woyo! 

(Hail to Father Agoue 

Who dwells in the sea ! 

Fie is the Lord of ships. 

In a blue gulf 

There are three little islands. 

The negro’s boat is storm-tossed, 

Father Agoue brings it safely in. 

Hail to Father Agoue!) 

When this singing and pouring of libations were ended, 
the papaloi sealed the open doorway by tracing thus across 
its earthen sill : 


See pa(/e 

“At the left of the altar were the Rada drums.” 



Evil or unwelcome forces which sought to enter would 
become entangled in the lines and go wandering from circle 
to circle like lost souls among the stars. 

This done, he began the real service, for which all thus 
far had been but a preparation. He stood with arms raised 
before the altar and said solemnly, “Lans nom tout Lot et 
tout My store'' (In the name of all the Gods and all the 

Maman Celie advanced at a sign from the papaloi and 
was invested by him, with the scarlet robe and headdress of 
ostrich feathers black and red, as mamaloi or priestess. This 
was accompanied by a shrill chant : 

Ayida Oueddo, ou couleuvre mains! 

Oui le ou filer ou cou z eclai! 

(Ayida Oueddo, my serpent goddess, 

When you come it is like the lightning flash!) 

At the same time now I heard through the chanting a 
sharp long-drawn continuous hissing. It was Maman Celie, 
hissing like a snake, drawing and expelling the breath 
through her teeth. 

I looked for Maman Celie’s familiar sweet, gentle face, 
but beneath the black and scarlet plumes I saw now only 
what seemed a rigid mask. I felt that I was looking into the 
face of a strange, dreadful woman, or into the face of some- 
thing which I had never seen before. As I watched, the 
cheeks of this black mask were deeply indrawn so that the 
face became skull-like, and then alternately puffed out as 
if the skull had been covered with flesh and come alive. 

As the chanting died away, she whirled three times and 
flung herself prostrate before the altar with her lips pressed 
against the earth. 

Emanuel, without donning sacerdotal garb, but now act- 
ing as a sort of altar servant, brought in the two red cocks. 



Each was handled gently, almost reverently, by the papaloi, , 
as he knelt holding it and with white flour traced on its ) 
back a cross. One of the small sweet cakes was crumbled, 
and each cock must peck at it from the mamaloi s hand. 
This was awaited patiently. At the moment when each bird 
consented to receive the consecrated food, the priestess 
seized it and rose wildly dancing, whirling with the cock 
held by its head and feet in her upstretched hands, its wings 
violently fluttering. Round and round she whirled while 
the drums throbbed in a quick, tangled, yet steady rhythm. 
With a sudden twist the cock’s head was torn off and as 
she whirled the blood flew out as if from a sprinkling-pot. 
The other birds, the black cocks and the dove, were dealt 
with similarly. As she danced with the white living doves, 
it was beautiful, and it seemed to me natural also that they 
should presently die. Blood of the doves was saved in a 
china cup. 

A thing which had a different, a horror-beauty like a mad 
Goya etching, occurred when the black priestess did her 
death dance with the huge white turkey. Though far from I 
feeble, possessed of great vitality, she was a slender woman, j 
slightly formed, whose nervous strength lay not in muscular 
weight. When the turkey’s wings spread wide and began to 
flap frantically above her head as she whirled, the great 
bird seemed larger and more powerful than she; it seemed 
that she would be dragged from her feet, hurled to the 
ground, or flown away with fabulously into the sky. And 
as she sought finally to tear off its head, sought to clutch 
its body between her knees, it attacked her savagely, beat- 
ing her face and breasts, beating at her so that she was at 
moments enfolded by the great white wings, so that bird 
and woman seemed to mingle struggling in a monstrous, 
mythical embrace. But her fatal hands were still upon its 
throat, and in that swanlike simulacre of the deed which for 
the male is always like a little death, it died. 

So savage had this scene been that it was almost like an 



anticlimax when the sacrificial goat was now led through 
the doorway to the altar, but new and stranger things, con- 
trasting, were yet to happen before other blood was shed. 
He was a sturdy brown young goat, with big, blue, terrified, 
almost human eyes, eyes which seemed not only terrified 
but aware and wondering. At first he bleated and struggled, 
for the odor of death was in the air, but finally he stood 
quiet, though still wide-eyed, while red silken ribbons were 
twined in his little horns, his little hoofs anointed with wine 
and sweet-scented oils, and an old woman who had come 
from far over the mountain for this her one brief part in the 
long ceremony sat down before him and crooned to him 
alone a song which might have been a baby’s lullaby. 

When it was finished, the 'papaloi sat down before the 
little goat and addressed to it a discourse in earnest tones. 
He told the little goat that it would soon pass through the 
final gates before us all, instructed it in the mysteries, and 
pleaded with it concerning its conduct on the other side. 
But before it passed through the gate, he explained, certain 
magieal changes, making its path easier, would occur on 
this side. Therefore it need have no fear. Upon its fore- 
head he traced a cross and circle, first with flour and after- 
ward with blood of the doves. Then he presented to it a 
green, leafy branch to eat. 

This goat had by now become inevitably personal to me. 
I had conceived an affectionate interest in him while the 
old woman was singing. I recalled what had happened to 
the other creatures at the moment they touched food, and 
I had an impulse to ery out to him, “Don’t do that, little 
goat! Don’t touch it!” But it was a fleeting, purely senti- 
mental impulse. Not for anything, no matter what would 
happen, eould I have seriously wished to stop that cere- 
mony. I believe in such ceremonies. I hope that they will 
never die out or be abolished. I believe that in some form 
or another they answer a deep need of the universal human 
soul. I, who in a sense believe in no religion, believe yet in 



them all, asking only that they be alive — as religions.^ 
Codes of rational ethics and human brotherly love are use- 
ful, but they do not touch this thing underneath. Let re- 
ligion have its bloody sacrifices, yes, even human sacrifices, 
if thus our souls may be kept alive. Better a black papaloi 
in Haiti with blood-stained hands who believes in his living 
gods than a frock-coated minister on Fifth Avenue reducing 
Christ to a solar myth and rationalizing the Immaculate 

And so I did not cry out. 

And the goat nibbled the green leaves. 

But no knife flashed. 

In the dim, bare anteroom with its windowless gray walls, 
the girl Catherine had remained all this time huddled in a 
corner, as if drugged or half asleep. 

Emanuel had to clutch her tightly by the arm to prevent 
her from stumbling when they brought her to the altar. 
Maman Celie hugged her and moaned and shed tears as if 
they were saying good-by forever. The papaloi pulled them 
apart, and some one gave the girl a drink of rum from a 
bottle. She began to protest in a dull sort of angry, whining 
way when they forced her down on her knees before the 
lighted candles. The papaloi wound round her forehead red 
ribbons like those which had been fastened around the 
horns of the goat, and Maman Celie, no longer as a mourn- 
ing mother but as an officiating priestess, with rigid face 
aided in pouring the oil and wine on the girl’s head, feet, 
hands, and breast. 

All this time the girl had been like a fretful, sleepy, an- 
noyed child, but gradually she became docile, somber, star- 
ing with quiet eyes, and presently began a weird song of 

2 See Appendix, page 313. 


lamentation. I think she was extemporizing both the words 
and the melody. She sang : 

Cochon marron sache chemin caille; 

Moins mande ga li gagnin. 

“Nans Leogane tout moon malade 0 !” 

Bef marron sache chemin caille. 

Moins mande ga li gagnin. 

“Nans gros morne tout moon malade OJ” 

Cahrit marron sache chemin caille. 

Moms mande ga li gagnin. 

“Nans Guinea tout moon malade 0 !” 

M' pas malade, m'a p'mourri! 

(The wild pig came seeking me; 

I said why have you come % 

“Every one is sick in Leogane !” 

The wild bull came seeking me; 

I said why have you cornel 

“Every one Is sick in the mountains !” 

The wild goat came seeking me ; 

I said why have you come “? 

“Every one is sick in Africa!” 

So I who am not sick must die !) 

And as that black girl sang, and as the inner meaning of 
her song came to me, I seemed to hear the voice of Jephtha’s 
daughter doomed to die by her own father as a sacrifice to 
Javeh, going up to bewail her virginity on Israel’s lonely 
mountain. Her plight in actuality was rather that of Isaac 
bound by Abraham on Mount Moriah ; a horned beast 
would presently be substituted in her stead; but the moment 
for that mystical substitution had not yet come, and as she 
sang she was a daughter doomed to die. 



The ceremony of substitution, when it came, was pure 
effective magic of a potency which I have never seen equaled 
in Dervish monastery or anywhere. The goat and the girl, 
side by side before the altar, had been startled, restive, 
nervous. The smell of blood was in the air, but there was 
more than that hovering; it was the eternal, mysterious odor 
of death itself which both animals and human beings al- 
ways sense, but not through the nostrils. Yet now the two 
who were about to die mysteriously merged, the girl sym- 
bolically and the beast with a knife in its throat, were 
docile and entranced, were like automatons. The papal oi 
monotonously chanting, endlessly repeating, “Damballa 
calls you, Damballa calls you,” stood facing the altar with 
his arms outstretched above their two heads. The girl was 
now on her hands and knees in the attitude of a quadruped, 
directly facing the goat, so that their heads and eyes were 
on a level, less than ten inches apart, and thus they stared 
fixedly into each other’s eyes, while the papal oi’’ s hands 
weaved slowly, ceaselessly above their foreheads, the fore- 
head of the girl and the forehead of the horned beast, each 
wound with red ribbons, each already marked with the 
blood of a white dove. By shifting slightly I could see the 
big, wide, pale-blue, staring eyes of the goat, and the big, 
black, staring eyes of the girl, and I could have almost 
sworn that the black eyes were gradually, mysteriously be- 
coming those of a dumb beast, while a human soul was be- 
ginning to peer out through the blue. But dismiss that, and 
still I tell you that pure magic was here at work, that 
something very real and fearful was occurring. For as the 
priest wove his ceaseless incantations, the girl began a low, 
piteous bleating in which there was nothing, absolutely 
nothing, human; and soon a thing infinitely more unnatural 
occurred; the goat was moaning and crying like a human 
child. I believe that through my Druse and Yezidee ac- 
counts I have earned a deserved reputation for being not 
too credulous in the face of marvels. But I was in the pres- 



ence now of a thing that could not be denied. Old magic 
was here at work, and it worked appallingly. What dif- 
ference does it make whether we call it supernatural or 
merely supernormal? What difference does it make if we 
say that the girl was drugged — as I suspect she was — or 
that both were hypnotized? Of course they were, if you like. 
And what then? We live surrounded by mysteries and 
imagine that by inventing names we explain them. 

Other signs and wonders became manifest. Into this little 
temple lost among the mountains came in answer to goat- 
cry girl-cry the Shaggy Immortal One of a thousand names 
whom the Greeks called Pan. The goat’s lingam became 
erect and rigid, the points of the girl’s breasts visibly hard- 
ened and were outlined sharply pressing against the coarse, 
thin, tight-drawn shift that was her only garment. Thus 
they faced each other motionless as two marble figures on 
the frieze of some ancient phallic temple. They were like 
inanimate twin lamps in which a sacred flame burned, 
steadily yet unconsuming. 

While the papaloi still wove his spells, his hands moving 
ceaselessly like an old woman earding wool in a dream, the 
priestess held a twig green with tender leaves between the 
young girl and the animal. She held it on a level with their 
mouths, and neither saw it, for they were staring fixedly 
into each other’s eyes as entranced mediums stare into 
crystal globes, and with their necks thrust forward so that 
their foreheads almost touched. Neither could therefore see 
the leafy branch, but as the old mamaloi' s hand trembled, 
the leaves flicked lightly as if stirred by a little breeze 
against the hairy muzzle of the goat, against the chin and 
soft lips of the girl. And after moments of breathless watch- 
ing, it was the girl’s lips which pursed out and began to 
nibble at the leaves. Human beings, normally, when eating, 
open their mouths and take the food directly in between 
their teeth. Except for sipping liquids they do not use their 
lips. But the girl’s lips now nibbling at the leaves were like 



those of a ruminating animal. Her hands, of course, were 
flat on the ground so that in a sense she perforce must have 
eaten without using them, somewhat in the manner of a 
quadruped; but in a castle near the edge of the Nefud 
desert I once watched closely a woman eating whose hands 
were tied behind her back, and that woman, opening her 
mouth and baring her teeth, took the fragments of food 
directly between her teeth, as any normal human being 
would. But this girl now pursed her lips and used them 
nibbling as horned cattle do. It sounds a slight thing, per- 
haps, in the describing, but it was weird, unnatural, un- 

As she nibbled thus, the papaloi said in a hushed but 
wholly matter-of-fact whisper like a man who had finished a 
hard, solemn task and was glad to rest, ''Qa y est” (There 
it is). 

The papaloi was now holding a machete, ground sharp 
and shining. Maman Celie, priestess, kneeling, held a 
gamelle^ a wooden bowl. It was oblong. There was just 
space enough to thrust it narrowly between the mystically 
identified pair. Its rim touched the goat’s hairy chest and 
the girl’s body, both their heads thrust forv/ard above it. 
Neither seemed conscious of anything that was occurring, 
nor did the goat flinch when the papaloi laid his hand upon 
its horns. Nor did the goat utter any sound as the knife was 
drawn quickly, deeply across its throat. But at this instant, 
as the blood gushed like a fountain into the wooden bowl, 
the girl, with a shrill, piercing, then strangled bleat of 
agony, leaped, shuddered, and fell senseless before the altar. 

At the moment the knife flashed across the goat’s throat, 
the company had begun to chant, not high or loud but with 
a sort of deep, hushed fervor, across which the girl’s in- 
human bleating had shrilled sharp as another invisible 
blade. Now they continued chanting while the celebrants 
performed their various offices. They chanted: 

See page fiS 

‘ . and as she sang, she was 

a daughter doomed to die.’ 



Damballa Oueddo odan q'icit 
Mande qa la! One! 

Ayida Oueddo odan q’icit 
Mande qa la! Oue! 

(Damballa and Ayida, behold the deed we have done as you com- 

The body of the goat was thrown as a ritually useless 
and no longer sacred thing through the door into the ante- 
room. The body of the unconscious girl, spattered with 
blood, was lifted carefully into Emanuel’s arms and carried 
away, followed by two old women versed in magic who 
would attend her recovery. If Maman Celie, her face still 
like a terrible, inspired mask, bestowed one fleeting glance 
on either body, I did not see it. She was revolving slowly 
before the altar with the bowl in her outstretched arms and 
now held it to the papaloi, who received it, drank, then 
placed it on the altar, and with a little china cup poured 
libations within each of the three cabalistic circles on the 
earth. They also sang an invocation to Ybo, another of the 
ancient gods.^ 

There was a pause, a lull, in which I who had been for 
hours too utterly absorbed to give myself a thought, recalled 
that all this ceremonial was leading up to an event which 
concerned me more deeply than any other present. The time 
had now come. A very old black man, deeply wrinkled, with 
a beard that was like Spanish moss turned snowy white, 
who had been sitting silent all the while, took from a bag 
at his feet a white cloth which he wound around his head, 
and a white embroidered garment like a cassock which he 
put over his shoulders. He invested himself without the aid 
of other hands as a black pope or emperor might have done. 
He was not of our mountain. He had come riding upon a 
donkey from beyond the great Morne. Maman Celie had 

® See Appendix, page 318. 



summoned him and had paid the expenses from her own 
purse. It was a thing for which she would never permit me 
to repay her. As he arose and beckoned me to kneel at last 
before the altar, there was absolute silence. He was Voodoo 
of the Voodoo, but as he laid his hand upon my head it was 
neither in creole that he spoke, nor French, nor even the al- 
most forgotten language of old Guinea. I heard as in a 
dream, low, clear, and deep as the voices of old men rarely 
are, “In no?7iine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. AmenP 

And when still kneeling there with my eyes closed, I 
heard as from a great distance and as an echo from years 
long past his sure voice intoning that most marvelous and 
mysterious of all Latin invocations, “Rosa Mystica . . . 
Tower of David . . . Tower of Ivory . . . House of Gold 
. . . Gate of Heaven,” it seemed to me that I heard too 
the rolling of mighty organs beneath vaulted domes. . . . 

Oil, wine, and water were poured upon my head, marks 
were traced upon my brow with white flour, and then I was 
given to eat ritually from the cakes upon the altar, to drink 
from the wine, rum, and syrups there. Parts of many cakes 
were crumbled together in a little cup and were put into my 
mouth with a spoon; likewise were mingled a few drops 
from each of the many bottles. 

This, It seemed, had been a preliminary consecration rite 
in sincere inclusion of the Christian divinities, saints, and 
powers. Now the Voodoo chanting recommenced, and for 
the first time my own name was mingled with the creole and 
African words. They were beseeching Legba to open wide 
the gates for me, Damballa and Ayida to receive me. A sort 
of mad fervor was again taking possession of them all. The 
old hougan, shouting now so that his voice could be heard 
above the singing, demanded once more silence, and placing 
both hands heavily upon my head, pronounced a long mixed 
African and creole invocation, calling down to witness all 
the gods and goddesses of ancient Africa.^ Still commanding 
See Appendix, page 318. 


silence, he dipped his hand into the wooden bowl and traced 
on my forehead the bloody Voodoo cross. 

Then he lifted the bowl, hesitated for a queer instant 
as if in courteous doubt — it was a strange, trivial thing to 
occur at such a moment — and then picked up a clean spoon. 
Maman Celie interfered angrily. So the bowl itself was 
held to my lips and three times I drank. The blood had a 
clean, warm, salty taste. In physical fact, I was drinking 
the blood of a recently slain goat, but by some mysterious 
transubstantiation not without its parallels in more than 
one religion other than Voodoo, I was drinking the blood 
of the girl Catherine who in the body of the goat had mys- 
tically died for me and for all miserable humanity from 
Leogane to Guinea.® 

One small thing ^-et remained to be done. I had been 
told that it would be done, and its meaning explained to 
me. I had been told also that for no white man alive or dead 
had it ever been done before. The papaloi took from the 
altar an egg which had surmounted a little pyramid of 
cornmeal, and holding it aloft in his cupped hands, pro- 
nounced incantation. As the blood had represented the mys- 
tery of death, sacrifice, and purification, likewise fertiliza- 
tion as it was poured upon the earth, the egg now repre- 
sented rebirth, productivity, fertility, re-creation. Maman 
Celie, the priestess, took it from the hands of the papaloi^ 
traced with it a new cross on my forehead, and dashed it 
to the earth. My knees were spattered. Then the priestess 
tore off her feathered headdress, and Maman Celie, the old 
woman, sank down beside me, put her arms around me, and 
cried, “Legba, Papa Legba, open wide the gates for this my 
little one.” 

® See Appendix, page 319. 

Chapter VI 


If Maman Celie treated me as one of her own sons, no more, 
no less, mending my clothes, wrapping up my head in a 
mess of herbs and soapsuds (whether I would or no) when 
she thought I had caught danghi fever, scolding me on 
some occasions — but loving me — and showing me respect, 
thank God, on none, the attitude of the other members of 
this patriarchal family group at my adopted home in the 
mountains was slightly different. It was not that I was a 
blanc, a v/hite man; they had come to care nothing about 
that; it was rather that after all our intimacy they deemed 
me still gros 7?ioon, important “company,” an honored guest. 
The big peristyle, an open straw-roofed pavilion, inclosed 
only by a waist-high lattice fence to keep out the pigs and 
dogs that roved by night, was my guest chamber. I slept on 
a cot with sheets and the children made my bed. Marie- 
Celeste, an unmarried daughter, spied upon my awakenings, 
brought me black coffee. The grown sons generally insisted 
on helping saddle and unsaddle my horse. The young naked 
brats who toddled and crawled about regarded me still 
with a slight awe because of my boots and because they were 
forbidden to enter the peristyle. A table with a checkered 
cloth, knives, forks, and china plates was laid for me in 
the peristyle. Usually Maman Celie and Papa Theodore 
dined with me, but sometimes I dined alone. 

Thus accustomed by habitude to all these little considera- 
tions, I Vv^as roundly surprised one evening, and, I am afraid, 
ungraciously annoyed at the outset, when the following 
thing occurred. 




Capitan Despine, a gros negre whom I knew well, had 
ridden up to the habitation on a friendly call, and had been 
invited to stop and dine with me in the peristyle. We were 
seated alone at the table. Papa Theodore was occupied, and 
was to have coffee and rum with us later. It was during a 
lull in a hard week-end. No one had slept the previous night, 
and this may explain the fact, perhaps, that the nerves of 
all of us were a bit on edge. I know that I welcomed the 
lull and Despine’s amiable, unexciting matter-of-factness 
with his talk of cotton crops and rural gossip. Dinner was 
late, and I was hungry. 

Marie-Celeste had just brought to the table a steaming 
bowl of chicken stew, boiled plantains, and freshly baked 
hot biscuit. 

As I was helping Despine’s plate, Rafael, the second son 
of the family, a man about forty, entered the peristyle. He 
was an unassuming fellow who had always treated me with 
friendly deference. 

Now he strode to our table and said gruffly, sharply, 
“Lever ou^ tout suite, s’ ou plais” (Get up, immediately, 

Despine pushed back his chair preparatory to arising. 
But I sat still and motioned Despine to do the same. What- 
ever it was, it could wait until we had eaten. I saw the 
chicken getting cold. I said as much to Rafael, with a slight 
impatience. He stared a moment, confused, uncertain, then 
said, “Mats mysthe p’vini” (But a mystery approaches). 

But I was in a wrong mood. I was hungry and tired. 

I saw Rafael glancing toward the gate of the peristyle, 
and just inside it was a barefoot man in ragged overalls 
and a torn straw hat, a field laborer of the poorest class who 
moved slowly as if sleep-walking. Behind him outside the 
peristyle was a hushed group of strained black faces. Moods 
are uncontrollable. I was not impressed. Of course all this, 
which I am deviously telling, actually occurred within fif- 
teen or twenty seconds. 



Then suddenly something happened to my friend Rafael, 
and it was well that my eyes had turned back to him. The 
muscles of his black neck and shoulders swelled like those 
of a gorilla, his clenched, rigid hands came up slowly to- 
ward my throat, like those of a galvanized, trembling au- 
tomaton, and he said hoarsely, in creole: “Up! It ii a god 
who comes. . . 

I realized my danger almost too late. Had I not then 
leapt instantly to my feet, Rafael would have throttled me. 

As if sleep-walking still, the peasant in ragged overalls 
slowly approached our dinner table. Save for him and the 
three of us who now stood withdrawn, the peristyle was 
empty, but faces thronged all round it. There was no chant- 
ing, shrieking, as when the ordinary mysteres or lots descend. 
There was thick silence. The man now stood over our table, 
staring at it as if dreaming. In addition to the food there 
was a bottle of rum and a clay water jug. He picked up the 
rum bottle, hesitating, and set it down again. With his fin- 
gers he took up a piece of the stewed chicken, started to lift 
it toward his mouth, and put it back into the dish. He stared 
about him as if not knowing what to do. Curiously enough 
then, he saluted us vaguely, and shuffled toward the gate. 
Meanwhile Maman Celie and Papa Theodore had been 
called. Bundled in her arms, she was carrying her own 
priestess’ headdress of bright, dyed ostrich feathers, the 
papaloi’s embroidered stole, and a long ceremonial neck- 
lace, taken from the altar, on which were strung big beads, 
crucifixes, bullets, thimbles, charms, human teeth, and 
medals. They did not kneel before the man. They bowed 
low to him, from the waist, so that the upper parts of their 
bodies were horizontal. Then both lay prostrate before him 
and kissed his feet. Then they stood erect before him and 
began dressing him as they would an inanimate idol, while 
he stood docile, still as if dreaming. They draped the bright- 
colored stole and a surplice over his shoulders, tore the band 



into which the ostrich feathers were sewn so that it would 
fit his head, loaded him with necklaces. The women in the 
crowd now stripped off their own necklaces, rings, bracelets, 
and offered them with outstretched arms across the peristyle 
railings. Rings and bracelets which were too small to be 
pushed on his fingers or over his hands were strung together 
on a cord and hung round his neck. Maman Celie and Papa 
Theodore now fell back as if waiting to see what the man 
would do. He stood there alone in the lighted, vacant space, 
bedizened like an idol, doing nothing whatsoever, except, 
I noticed, that his black expressionless face began to stream 
with perspiration, though the night in these high mountains 
was cool. Maman Celie found time to whisper in my ear 
that a powerful and in some of his manifestations dreadful 
one of the elder gods, Ogoun Badagris, had entered the 
body of this man; that they were grateful for the presence 
of the god, but also frightened. And it was for this reason, 
I realized, that Rafael would surely have attacked me had 
I not leapt from the table at his last command. It was never 
satisfactorily explained to me how the incarnation had been 
identified as Ogoun Badagris. It was from some words the 
man had said and some gestures he had made when the 
trance-state had first fallen upon him, but those who had 
heard and seen the stroke, which had occurred outside in 
the compound, were not of Maman Celie’s household, and 
were reluctant afterward to talk about it. 

Again the man-god, hesitating, approached the table, 
where our chicken stew had long since grown cold. The god 
still wished food and drink, though apparently he did not 
care for this of ours; but it was a favorable sign. A proces- 
sion was formed to the houmfort. Maman Celie and Papa 
Theodore walked close at the right and left hand of the 
god, a half pace behind him; it looked as if the man-god 
was leading the procession, but I think really they were 



propelling him gently toward the door of the temple. Mean- 
while the erowd began singing: 

Ogoun vini caille nous; 

Li gran gout, li gagnin soif. 

Graiid me ci, Ogoun Badagris! 

Manger, bweh! 

(Ogoun is in our house; he is hungry and thirsty, and we are 
grateful. Eat and drink, Ogoun Badagris.) 

This joyfully, impromptu. And then more solemnly, be- 
cause they were still a little frightened, they intoned the 
formal ritual chant: 

Ogoun Badagris, ou general sanglant; 

Ou saizi cle z or age, ou scelV orage ; 

Ou fais katdou z’eclai. 

(Ogoun Badagris, bloody warrior, you hold the key to the storm- 
clouds ; you lock them up ; you loose the thunder and lightning.) 

When we first entered the houitifort, crowding in as 
m.any of us as could, wise Maman Celie did a little thing 
that seemed to me natural and lovely. It was the sort of 
thing that made her Maman Celie — that made her different 
from all the rest. Hastily crouching before the altar, with 
a quick side glance at the dread Ogoun Badagris who still 
seemed to be vaguely dazed in his then present incarnation, 
she surreptitiously removed the large Damballa snake staff 
which had occupied the position of central honor, and 
pushed over into its place a thunderstone, which was the 
special symbol of the god who had dropped down to visit 

The mystery room and the anteroom were crowded to 
suffocation, but a little space was left from which they 
pressed back as if it had been inclosed by invisible ropes, 
before the altar where Ogoun Badagris stood alone. The 
people were so crowded that only those in the front ranks 

■ . . , they were staring fixedly as en- 
tranced mediums stare into crystal globes.’ 

ftf- ■ i ; -h- . ' ■ ::>' :': ' f,v 

ik.,' „'•■/> {A/i (..;<- /iv,. I, ■■ 

":i flSl ; 




could kneel. Some mothers had brought in brats who peered 
wide-eyed, frightened, from behind skirts to see the marvel. 
Like Moses peering from the cleft on Sinai, they were able 
to glimpse only the hinder parts of the god. I was standing 
aside, near the altar, looking over Maman Celie’s shoulder. 
The only lighting was from candles on the altar. When I 
looked at the man’s face, his head surmounted by ostrich 
plumes, his neck loaded with beads, his shoulders covered 
by the bright-colored vestments, I saw only a dazed peasant 
masquerading in fantastic garments. But when I looked 
at his black hands, black as if they had been carved from 
basalt or unpolished ebony, all the fingers and thumbs 
loaded vfith glittering rings and bangles, it did something 
curious, almost hypnotic, to my mental and emotional proc- 
esses. My rational faculties ceased temporarily to function, 
and it seemed to me that I was in the presence of something 
indeed mysteriously superhuman. And when this creature 
at last bent forward and began to move those black, jeweled 
hands, vaguely groping toward the objects on the altar, it 
was for me as if some monstrous, black, bedizened idol had 
come alive. I was a little afraid of it. We were all a little 
afraid of it, I think, even Maman Celie. We were chanting 
in two endlessly repeated, monotonous minor chords. I 
was singing without at first having realized it. Something 
had got inside me. And because I was in that semi-halluci- 
natory state, I saw presently — as truly, I think, as any 
mortal eyes have ever seen it, for truth of this sort is purely 
subjective in the last analysis — a god descended to earth 
and made incarnate, accepting and devouring (for devour- 
ing is the only word when gods or beasts slake their hunger) 
the meats arrayed for him upon his own sacrificial altar. 

He was indeed anhungered and athirst. He did not seat 
himself before the altar as if it were a table. No book of 
etiquette has ever been written for the immortal gods. He 
climbed ponderously upon the altar, and crouching there 
like an animal, began eating and drinking ravenously but 



without haste. Clutching a whole handful of little cakes, he 
crammed some of them into his mouth, then dropped the 
rest to lift with both hands a wooden bowl of congealing 
goat’s blood, and drank deep. Thus alternating, he ate his 
fill of the fruits and meats, drinking from the dozen various 
bottles which stood open on the altar, ranging at random 
from grenadine to rum and orgeat. He seemed utterly self- 
contained, utterly unconscious of the presence of any of us. 
He was the god, and we were less than nothing in his 

Yet when he had finished, he deigned to notice us. He 
arose, stood before the altar, and for the first time began 
to speak. My knowledge of creole is practical and fairly 
thorough, but I could not follow him. I could follow per- 
haps a third of what he said, or less. There were many 
words and phrases of definite African origin, a very few 
of which I knew, but much of it was jargon, a speaking “in 
strange tongues,” as the modern Apostolic sectarians speak 
when the Pentecostal flame descends. As an entirety, how- 
ever, it was far from senseless. It involved, as Maman 
Celie verified for me afterward, predictions and definite 
commands relating to protective agricultural measures 
against the avalasse^ the approaching spring storms and 
torrents. It related also to other definite matters which I 
regret can have no place in this chronicle. 

When the events which I have described were finished, 
we emerged beneath the stars, and the god, replete with 
food and quietly drunken, lay down to sleep alone in his 
silent temple. But when morning came, the god had de- 
parted. Only an humble ragged negro lay there dozing at 
the foot of the altar. 

The small intimate sequels of more or less unusual occur- 
rences hold sometimes an interest which makes them worth 
recording. My first concern next day was to find Rafael and 
offer apology. He bore me no malice. He said that, of 



course, I hadn’t understood, and that part of the fault was 
really his for not having explained more clearly. But it 
had all happened so quickly. Anyway, he said, it was lucky 
that I had jumped up in time, for something funeste might 
have happened. I was surprised that he knew such a lugu- 
brious word ; it isn’t usual creole. I am sure, since he used 
that particular word, he was not referring to the mere 
physical fact that he had been on the hairbreadth verge of 
strangling me. I have no wish to exaggerate the episode. 
It was the only occasion among them when I was in bodily 
danger, and it came about as a sort of accident, through my 
own stupidity. 

I was interested in the young black man whose body had 
been for a time the abode of Ogoun Badagris, and curious to 
see how he would now be treated by the others. I observed 
that he was shown no special attention, and had gained no 
prestige or merit. He was like a common, empty cup, in 
which a rare elixir had for a brief period chanced to be 
contained. No odor of godhead clung to him. The man him- 
self had no recollection whatsoever of anything which had 
occurred. Not even the rings, beads, and necklaces remained 
which the women had showered for his adornment. These 
were reclaimed from a basket, to be cherished as sacred. 

My horse stood saddled for the last time beside the peri- 

Good-by, Theodore; good-by, Emanuel, Rafael, Cather- 
ine, Marie-Celeste — good-by to you all of the mountain. 

And now farewell, Maman Celie . . . farewell, old 
priestess of dark mysteries . . . farewell, old mother whom 
I love. ... I feel your arms around me and your wrinkled 
cheek wet with tears. 


} . 

^pi/v: ■ ■'' 


Fart Two: 


Chapter I 


In downtown Port-au-Prince, diagonally across the street 
from Mohr & Laurin’s, where Marine Corps officers, their 
wives, and occasional tourists go to buy jazz records and 
cocktail shakers and to have their Kodak films developed, 
there is a small pharmacy with a large gilded lion suspended 
from an iron strut projecting over the sidewalk. 

Above this pharmacy is located the clinic of Dr. Arthur 
C. Holly, who has the largest practice of any negro doctor 
in the Haitian capital. Mornings, from ten to noon, he 
treats charity patients, and his waiting-room is crowded. 
In the afternoon he treats the rich and well-to-do by ap- 

H is desk is cluttered with the latest medical jour- 
nals; his laboratory and operating-room are scientifically 
equipped; there are few abler physicians, black or white, 
in the West Indies. 

But when Dr. Holly goes home at night, to his lovely 
villa, set among palm trees and flower gardens, behind a 
high brick wall with a tall grilled gate at the entrance to 
the driveway, he discards medical journals and buries his 
nose in a totally different sort of literature — Paracelsus, 
Eliphas Levy, Frazer, Swedenborg, William James, Blavat- 
ski — for Dr. Holly is profoundly, studiously interested in 
comparative religion, folk-lore, mysticism, and magic. His 
own new book on these subjects, when it is finished and pub- 
lished in France, will be a permanent contribution. 

I am not betraying a confidence, nor will these statements 
harm my friend when they are read in Haiti, for his pa- 




tients and the public know that these two sides of Dr. Holly- 
are kept, as it were, in watertight compartments, and that 
when they go to him for diagnosis he consults no oracles 
save those of strictly modern science. 

Most cultivated urban Haitians either fear or pretend 
to deny the existence of magic and Voodoo, but to Dr. 
Holly they have been for many years a rich field for 
scholarly and esoteric research. The peasants, whom he 
treats without charge, give him their confidence, and he is 
on intimate terms with half the fapalois of Haiti, some of 
whom have been his patients. 

To my friend Holly I went one day concerning vague 
tales of a witchcraft cult in the peninsula, called le culte des 
tnorts — hoping that if it existed, he might put me in touch 
with some of its exponents. He was surprised that I should 
have heard of it. 

“These people,” he said, “are necromancers (users of 
corpses for magical purposes), though the word necromancy 
does not exist in our creole vocabulary. What you ask is 
difficult, and your Voodoo friends will not be able to help 
you. The practice is not widespread; most orthodox mem- 
bers of the Petro and Legba Voodoo cults hate and will have 
no dealings with them. It is barely possible, however, that 
something may be arranged.” 

In my investigation of the culte des marts, there were 
failures, refusals, difficulties, disappointments, frustrations. 

But one day a boy appeared at my house with a note — 
I had no telephone — asking me to go down to Dr. Holly’s 
office. I went immediately and found him talking with a 
country girl, a coal-black, smooth-skinned negress, who 
seemed to me particularly mild and childlike. He intro- 
duced us politely. Her name was Classinia — Mam’selle 
Classinia. She stood up, almost as tall as I, accepted my 
hand awkwardly, and noncommittal, soft-voiced, amiable 
but not friendly, said, “Bon jou\ blancB 

Dr. Holly explained that I was his trusted friend, a 

Sec page .07 

. . . Croyance, leading the 
nine dead men and women.” 



white bocor who had gone round the world studying the 
“m)^steries” in old Guinea and in countries even farther 

“Oz«‘, 'papa^^ she agreed blandly, and “Ozzz, papa” she 
acquiesced again when Dr. Holly announced that Mam’selle 
Classinia was a “Nebo” of the culte des marts, and that on 
Saturday afternoon I was going to visit her habitation in 
the hills. . . . 

Dr. Holly had no intention of accompanying me. Since 
the coming of the American administration he has felt, be- 
cause of his professional position, that he must forego being 
present at even technical infractions of the legal prohibi- 
tion against sortilege. As a fellow student of these matters, 
and as a fellow author, he could help me in obtaining data, 
but only as far as it involved no infringement of the statutes 
on his part. 

I arrived at the habitation before dusk. An old man and 
woman were expecting me, but Classinia was not there. She 
would return presently, they told me. They gave me coffee 
and I sat smoking, while they went about their occasions. 
Presently, as darkness fell, people began appearing until 
two or three dozen had arrived. They looked at me sus- 
piciously, and their grudging salutations were not friendly, 
but after the old woman had whispered among them, they 
seemed satisfied, at least not aggressively unpleasant. Time 
passed, and nothing happened. At last, about nine o’clock 
they went into the house, and a quarter of an hour later 
the old man, who seemed to be head of the place — ^perhaps 
Classinia’s father — emerged and took me inside. 

The narrow oblong room was bare except for a common 
table with a red and white checkered tablecloth on which 
were laid skulls, bones, a shovel, a pick-ax; there was a 
wooden cross painted like a totem pole, wreathed by a 
feather boa. Before it were rows of lighted tapers, slender, 
brown, crudely-made candles, of the sort placed on graves 



and in the niches of tombs. There were no Voodoo symbols 
or sacred objects of any sort. This was not Voodoo, nor was 
it religious. There was additional light from a smoking tin 
lamp fastened to a post which supported the roof. 

Huddled upon the floor, body to body, some crouching 
and others prostrate, were a score or more of black men and 
women, swaying, writhing, moaning. 

Before the altar of skulls, facing us, stood three human 
figures, grotesque, yet indescribably sinister. All three who 
stood there were women. The tall central figure, the forrner 
mild Classinia, now completely changed, wore a soft white 
muslin skirt, above it a man’s long-tailed black frock coat, 
and on her head a man’s high silk hat ; her eyes were hidden 
by dark, smoked goggles. Why it was that as simple a thing 
as smoked goggles seemed horrible, I cannot tell, unless be- 
cause they made the face impersonal, inscrutable. Gro- 
tesquely in the corner of her mouth, as if stuck into the 
mouth of a wooden dummy, was an unlighted cigar. 

Thus symbolically clothed, she was no longer a woman, 
but Papa Nebo, the male-female hermaphroditic oracle of 
the dead. The dark goggles meant that death was blind. 

This metamorphosed creature which had been the girl 
Classinia, but which was now neither man nor woman, or 
was both, was flanked on either side by two wives. 

At the right stood one woman without special garb, but 
holding in her hand a heavy bag. Her title was Gouede 
Mazacca. In the bag she carried an afterbirth and part of a 
navel cord, wrapped in the poisonous leaves of the man- 
chineel tree. 

At the left stood another woman with a high white turban 
wound awry. She was poised, motionless like a statue, but 
with her arms thrust forward, and her hands clutching a 
half-empty rum bottle and a bludgeon. Her feet were 
planted wide apart, her head was thrown back, and there 
was a sort of shameless abandon in the whole posture of her 
body. She was called Gouede Oussou, the Drunken One, 


possibly from a corruption of the creole phrase, ou soule 
(thou art drunk). She was not actually drunk, for no 
drunken woman could have held that posture for a moment, 
and she stood fixedly. 

There, then, before the altar piled with human bones, 
stood these three silent figures, in the dull smoky light, 
while the huddled, groaning, contorted bodies lay prostrate 
before them on the earthen floor. 

These moaning peasants meant to establish contact 
through the oracle — for various purposes, some innocent, 
some evil — with persons recently or long since dead. After 
a period of writhing and groaning, during which one or two 
of the prostrate forms emitted loud wails, Gouede Mazacca 
called out and Gouede Oussou repeated after her, “Fapa 
Nebo attend which could mean either “Papa Nebo is 
waiting to hear you,” or “Listen, Papa Nebo.” I think it 
meant the former. 

Two or three who had been lying face down got simul- 
taneously to their knees with black hands clutched, out- 
stretched; strained, eye-closed faces, muttering; but only 
one, a middle-aged man, spoke out loudly. 

His son was sick; he feared that the dead mother had put 
a ouanga on the son to make him join her in the grave, and 
he was begging that the boy be spared. His pleas were whim- 
pering, simple, yet full of terrified emotion. The boy was 
needed for the spring planting. The family would be in 
poverty if he grew sicker and died. The habitation would 
fall in ruin. 

When he had finished and waited, a hush fell, broken 
only by low moans. And the sexless oracle of death began 
to speak if any such word as speech could be applied to 
the dreadful sounds that came from its throat — a series of 
deep, rasped gutturals, strung together on meaningless 
vowel monotones: 

“Hgr-r-r-r-u-u-u-u-kgrr-r-r-o-o-o- Hgr-r-r-a-a-a-a-a Oh-h- 
h-h~uu-uu-uu-uu- Bl-hl-bl-ghra-a-a-a- Ghu-u-u-u-u-u — ” 



It was like the prolonged death-rattle from a windpipe 
choked with phlegm or blood; it was those horrid sounds 
in skillful savage simulacre. 

The oracle was talking with the dead, in the subhuman 
vernacular of death itself — or at least so it must have 
seemed to the ears of the waiting listeners. 

And it seemed to them that the dead made answer, but 
through what process of transmission was not altogether 
clear, for when the oracle paused it was Gouede Mazacca, 
she of the afterbirth and poisonous leaves, who said in plain 
blunt creole : 

“Let your son go hang his own garments on a tree near 
the mother’s grave, and plant six candles at the foot of the 
tree, with three upon the grave itself, and she will be con- 
tent.” ^ 

“Mem, Maman, jnerci’’ whimpered the father. 

Other ghastly colloquies followed, always through the 
death-rattle mumbling of the oracle, ending with blunt 
pronouncement of Gouede Mazacca or Gouede Oussou. 
There was a dead woman who for spite had made a certain 
spring go dry; an old farmer who was on his deathbed had 
forgotten where he had hidden the earthen pot of coins 
which were the family savings. Similar reasons motivated 
most of these appeals, though one kneeling woman merely 
wanted to know whether her father was content with the 
offerings she placed upon his grave. And one or two, who 
perhaps had tried the ordinary ouangas in vain, clamored 
for aid from the tomb in wreaking some personal vengeance. 
Various instructions were given and translated, offerings to 
be put on graves, exorcisms to be pronounced, ouangas to 
be made with parts of human corpses. 

Here was ample scope for the charlatanry and profitable 
fraud which I had been told the superstitious peasants uni- 
versally suffered at the hands of rapacious sorcerers. Yet I 
had the feeling that while Classinia with her family and 

1 See Appendix, page 321. 



these other death-cult women obviously reaped profit from 
their ceremonies — since all who came left gifts of various 
sorts upon the altar — the chief actors believed in what they 
were doing, just as did the supposedly “victimized” audi- 

I noted that when it was over, Classinia and her two 
assistants were stupefied, tired, “washed-out,” almost to 
the point of exhaustion, as if they had been under prolonged 
and violent nervous stress. These people gave me no per- 
sonal confidence, nor were they particularly friendly. They 
had permitted me to see what I had just seen only because 
they had been instructed to do so, and had been assured 
that I was “safe” — not connected in any way with the 
gendarmerie or “government.” 

Upon the three chief sorceresses of this cult. Papa Nebo, 
Gouede Mazacca, and Gouede Oussou — whoever personally 
they may happen to be — devolves the function of providing 
new dead bodies when they are needed.^ 

Certainly no white man, certainly not I, and I imagine 
few Haitians, has ever seen the conjurations which take 
place between midnight and dawn in some lonely, isolated 
little country graveyard. The account I am going to give is 
not even the “first-hand” report of another eye-witness. The 
man who supplied me the details had never seen it. He had 
got it directly, however, from a woman who he believes did 
see it. I am inclined also to believe that it is accurate, but I 
cannot vouch for it. 

The three women carry with them a spade, a pick-ax, a 
white candle, and a small bag of wild acacia leaves. Arriv- 
ing among the graves they light the candle and set it at 
the foot of the wooden cross which usually stands in every 
country graveyard. If no cross is there, they make one, and 
set the candle before it. Next they kneel, and taking two 
stones from a grave, knock them together to awaken Baron 

2 See Appendix, page 321. 



Samedi, who is the spirit of the graveyard. Baron Samedi 
is a big black man with a long white beard. He usually re- 
mains invisible, but makes his presence felt by some sign. 
Without his consent it is dangerous to open a grave. The 
women pray for this permission and promise, if it is granted, 
to return with gifts of food, fruit, and copper coins. They 
then toss the acacia leaves toward him and say : 

“Dorm^ fcC fu7ne^ Baron Satriedi!” (Sleep sweetly, Baron 
Samedi !) 

Baron Samedi, ruler of the cemetery, granting his protec- 
tion, retires into the earth.® 

Next they say, “Exege Nlorti anio vini" (probably a cor- 
ruption of the dog-Latin formula, Exurgent mortui et acmo 
venuient'). Distorted old ecclesiastical phrases are fre- 
quently used in Haitian sorcery. They say also, Alortoo 
to?nboo miyiT — a jargonized creole, meaning, “Dead in 
the tomb, to me!” 

Now they set about their grave-robbing with pick and 
spade. They dig up the body for which they have come and 
carry it away with them. 

The necromantic uses which they make of various parts 
of the corpse are thoroughly authenticated in many veri- 
fiable cases. The facts have appeared even in American 
military reports of the Caco guerilla uprisings. They rub 
grease made from the brains upon the edges of machetes 
and tools, so that they will be intelligent and cut more 
accurately; on the head of the hammer so that it will 
know always where to strike ; upon the sights of a gun 
so that the bullet will reach its mark. The heart they dry 
and use to give courage to weak persons who eat small por- 
tions of it or carry bits of it in a tiny bag strung around 
their necks. From other parts of the body are concocted 
ouangas, caprclatas, philters, charms for various purposes, 
benevolent and malevolent. The skull and bones become a 

3 See Appendix, page 323. 




part of the permanent altar paraphernalia.* This culte des 
marts is a limited witchcraft group. In America the word 
Voodoo has come to mean indiscriminately any negro sor- 
cery, secret ceremony, or old African witch-doctor practice. 
In Haiti the word is similarly loosely used sometimes even 
by natives, so that when they wish to distinguish sharply 
they are likely to use the word Radu as the name of their re- 
ligion, and Service Retro or Service Legba for their cere- 
monial religious rites. This culte des marts is not Rada. 

While the corpse sorcerers and their adherents are a group 
limited and feared, it is true that all Haitian peasants are 
on curiously intimate terms with their dead and seem al- 
most totally devoid of that special, unreasoning terror of 
graveyards, ghosts, “haunts,” and dead bodies (merely as 
such) which is traditional among rural negroes — and some 
white people too — in the United States. 

Riding through the mountains between Morne Rouis 
and Les Verettes late one night I heard shouting, singing, 
and sounds of bamhoche in a group of habitations hidden 
by a clump of banana trees in a ravine below the trail. If 
the drums had been going, I should have guessed it to be 
an ordinary Congo dance. I dismounted and led my horse 
zigzagging downward. 

One of the compounds with its huts was lighted by tin 
lamps and resin torches, the yard thronged with people. 
All the little neighborhood, apparently, had gathered there. 
Baskets of gingerbread, biscuit, and dried fish, a cook-pot 
simmering over the embers, indicated they were making a 
night of it. The women and girls were bedecked in their 
Sunday best — ^gold earrings, bead necklaces, bright ker- 
chiefs. In a corner, near a torch stuck in the bamboo fence, 
some men were playing cards, and a second group were 
noisily shooting craps. 

Others crowded round me in amiable welcome — “Bon 
soir^ blanc” or “Bon soir, lieutenant ” or “Bon soir, doc- 
* See Appendix, page 331. 



— feeling me friendly, but guessing variously what 
I might be. They offered me clairin, raw white rum, in tin 
cups. I drank a little and said, '‘Oui, me'ci. Mats ga ou fats, 
tout moon kit?'''’ 

'^Grand moon li morf’ (The old man is dead), they re- 
plied. “Entrer done oue Ik (Come in and see him). 

They escorted me indoors to view the remains. The room 
was crowded. All the home-made chairs in the neighbor- 
hood had been borrowed, also old boxes and stools. There 
was a table piled with more gingerbread, a basket of dried 
herring, bonbons, brown-sugar candy, a five-gallon jug of 
clairin already half emptied. Family, cousins, friends, were 
seated around, eating, drinking, wading, singing, and hav- 
ing, all in all, a grand good time. 

Over against the wall, in the place of honor, which meant 
nearest the food and rum-jug, sat the dead man in a clean 
blue smock and blue cotton trousers with shoes on his feet 
and his Sunday straw hat on the back of his woolly gray 
head. They had propped him up in a position as lifelike as 
possible and had fastened him in the chair so he wouldn’t 
topple over. His head had dropped sideways, but there was 
nothing repellent about his old wrinkled face. He seemed 
just a kindly old man, rather stiff in the joints, who had 
come to the party and then gone to sleep. 

I suppose nine-tenths of what one thinks one sees in any 
material phenomenon, shocking or the reverse, lies not pri- 
marily in the visual impression, but in the contributory 
psychology. I suppose this dead man, really, looked as 
any corpse would look propped up in a chair. That he 
seemed so casual, so devoid of shocking or macabre gro- 
tesqueness, was doubtless because the living people there 
accepted him so casually. They expected me to salute ^irn 
as I did the rest of the company, and when rum was poured 
out they politely offered the dead man a cupful too. When 
I produced packages of cigarettes, a youth, probably son 
or grandson, said, “Perhaps papa would like a smoke. 



lighted a cigarette from his own, and went and stuck it be- 
tween the old man’s lips. It did not seem rude or shocking. 
It seemed mildly humorous, rather. And I think it was 
mildly humorous to them, for presently, as the cigarette 
burned of itself, a smiling wench nudged another and cried, 
“Garder tonton fimer! Qa li fait plaisd T (See Uncle smok- 
ing! He seems to like it!) 

And several exclaimed delightedly, ''Out, dest vdtad! 
Li fime!” 

Another cried, ‘‘Bai li bwelf' (Give him a drink). 

There was no mockery in this, but rather a sort of faintly 
humorous affection. Also they believed that his spirit was 
still hovering around and would enjoy these little atten- 

They wanted me to stay the night with them and attend 
the funeral next day — it was to be a dancing funeral — but 
I had seen dancing funerals before and wanted to get on 
to Les Verettes. 

After taking leave of the company and of the old man, 
whose cold hand I clasped in saying adieu, which seemed to 
please them, I gave the widow a couple of small bills to 
help defray expenses of the baniboche, and rode away re- 
flecting that Haitian peasants are difficult for the civilized 
mind to understand. . . . 

If, for example, the little scene I have just described 
seems out of key with things which have preceded it and 
things which are to follow, I beg readers not to tax me with 
the inconsistency. The Haitian peasants are thus double- 
natured in reality — sometimes moved by savage, atavistic 
forces whose dark depths no white psychology can ever 
plumb — but often, even in their weirdest customs, naive, 
simple, harmless children. 

® See Appendix, page 332. 

Chapter II 


Pretty mulatto Julie had taken baby Marianne to bed. 
Constant Polynice and I sat late before the doorway of his 
caille, talking of fire-hags, demons, werewolves, and vam- 
pires, while a full moon, rising slowly, flooded his sloping 
cotton fields and the dark rolling hills beyond. 

Polynice was a Haitian farmer, but he was no common 
jungle peasant. He lived on the island of La Gonave, where 
I shall return to him in later chapters. He seldom went over 
to the Haitian mainland, but he knew what was going on 
in Port-au-Prince, and spoke sometimes of installing a 

A countryman, half peasant born and bred, he was fa- 
miliar with every superstition of the mountains and the 
plain, yet too intelligent to believe them literally true — or 
at least so I gathered from his talk. 

He was interested in helping me toward an understand- 
ing of the tangled Haitian folk-lore. It was only by chance 
that we came presently to a subject which — though I re- 
fused for a long time to admit it — lies in a baffling category 
on the ragged edge of things which are beyond either super- 
stition or reason. He had been telling me of fire-hags who 
left their skins at home and set the cane fields blazing; of 
the vampire, a woman sometimes living, sometimes dead, 
who sucked the blood of children and who could be dis- 
tinguished because her hair always turned an ugly red; ^ of 
the werewolf — chauche^ in creole — a man or woman who 

1 See Appendix, page 332. 


See pope I04 

“ . . . strange tales are told of Voo 
doo in the boudoir and salon 


took the form of some animal, usually a dog, and went kill- 
ing lambs, young goats, sometimes babies. 

All this, I gathered, he considered to be pure superstition, 
as he told me with tolerant scorn how his friend and neigh- 
bor Osmann had one night seen a gray dog slinking with 
bloody jaws from his sheep-pen, and who, after having shot 
and exorcised and buried it, was so convinced he had killed 
a certain girl named Liane who was generally reputed to 
be a chauche that when he met her two days later on the 
path to Grande Source, he believed she was a ghost come 
back for vengeance, and fled howling. 

As Polynice talked on, I reflected that these tales ran 
closely parallel not only with these of the negroes in 
Georgia and the Carolinas, but with the mediaeval folk- 
lore of white Europe. Werewolves, vampires, and demons 
were certainly no novelty. But I recalled one creature I had 
been hearing about in Haiti, which sounded exclusively 
local — the zombie. 

It seemed (or so I had been assured by negroes more 
credulous than Polynice) that while the zoinhie came from 
the grave, it was neither a ghost, nor yet a person who had 
been raised like Lazarus from the dead. The zombie, they 
say, is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from 
the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical sem- 
blance of life — it is a dead body which is made to walk and 
act and move as if it were alive. People who have the power 
to do this go to a fresh grave, dig up the body before it has 
had time to rot, galvanize it into movement, and then make 
of it a servant or slave, occasionally for the commission of 
some crime, more often simply as a drudge around the habi- 
tation or the farm, setting it dull heavy tasks, and beating it 
like a dumb beast if it slackens. 

As this was revolving in my mind, I said to Polynice: 
“It seems to me that these werewolves and vampires are 
first cousins to those we have at home, but I have never, 
except in Haiti, heard of anything like zombies. Let us 



talk of them for a little while. I wonder if you can tell me 
something of this zombie superstition. I should like to get 
at some idea of how it originated.” 

My rational friend Polynice was deeply astonished. He 
leaned over and put his hand in protest on my knee. 

“Superstition*? But I assure you that this of which you 
now speak is not a matter of superstition. Alas, these things 
— and other evil practices connected with the dead — exist. 
They exist to an extent that you whites do not dream of, 
though evidences are everywhere under your eyes. 

“Why do you suppose that even the poorest peasants, 
when they can, bury their dead beneath solid tombs of 

“Why do they bury them so often in their own yards, 
close to the doorway? 

“Why, so often, do you see a tomb or grave set close 
beside a busy road or footpath where people are always 

“It is to assure the poor unhappy dead such protection 
as we can. 

“I will take you in the morning to see the grave of my 
brother, who was killed in the way you know. It is over 
there on the little ridge which you can see clearly now in 
the moonlight, open space all round it, close beside the 
trail which everybody passes going to and from Grande 
Source. Through four nights we watched yonder, in the 
peristyle, Osmann and I, v/ith shotguns — for at that time 
both my dead brother and I had bitter enemies — until we 
were sure the body had begun to rot. 

“No, my friend, no, no. There are only too many true 
cases. At this very moment, in the moonlight, there are 
zombies working on this island, less than two hours’ ride 
from my own habitation. We know about them, but we do 
not dare to interfere so long as our own dead are left un- 
molested. If you will ride with me tomorrow night, yes, I 
will show you dead men working in the cane fields. Close 


even to the cities, there are sometimes zombies. Perhaps you 
have already heard of those that were at Hasco. . . 

“What about Hasco?” I interrupted him, for in the 
whole of Haiti, Hasco is perhaps the last name anybody 
would think of connecting with either sorcery or supersti- 

The word is American-commercial-synthetic, like Na- 
bisco, Delco, Socony. It stands for the Haitian-American 
Sugar Company — an immense factory plant, dominated by 
a huge chimney, with clanging machinery, steam whistles, 
freight cars. It is like a chunk of Hoboken. It lies in the 
eastern suburbs of Port-au-Prince, and beyond it stretch 
the cane fields of the Cul-de-Sac. Hasco makes rum when 
the sugar market is off, pays low wages, twenty or thirty 
cents a day, and gives steady work. It is modern big busi- 
ness, and it sounds it, looks it, smells it. 

Such, then, was the incongruous background for the weird 
tale Constant Polynice now told me. 

The spring of 1918 was a big cane season, and the fac- 
tory, which had its own plantations, offered a bonus on the 
wages of new workers. Soon heads of families and villages 
from the mountain and the plain came trailing their ragtag 
little armies, men, women, children, trooping to the regis- 
tration bureau and thence into the fields. 

One morning an old black headman, Ti Joseph of Co- 
lombier, appeared leading a band of ragged creatures who 
shuffled along behind him, staring dumbly, like people 
walking in a daze. As Joseph lined them up for registration, 
they still stared, vacant-eyed like cattle, and made no reply 
when asked to give their names. 

Joseph said they were ignorant people from the slopes 
of Morne-au-Diable, a roadless mountain district near the 
Dominican border, and that they did not understand the 
creole of the plains. They were frightened, he said, by the 
din and smoke of the great factory, but under his direction 
they would work hard in the fields. The farther they were 



sent away from the factory, from the noise and bustle of 
the railroad yards, the better it would be. 

Better indeed, for these were not living men and women 
but poor unhappy zombies whom Joseph and his wife Croy- 
ance had dragged from their peaceful graves to slave for 
him in the sun — and if by chance a brother or father of 
the dead should see and recognize them, Joseph knew that 
it would be a very bad affair for him. 

So they were assigned to distant fields beyond the cross- 
roads, and camped there, keeping to themselves like any 
proper family or village group; but in the evening when 
other little companies, encamped apart as they were, 
gathered each around its one big common pot of savory 
millet or plantains, generously seasoned with dried fish and 
garlic, Croyance would tend two pots upon the fire, for as 
every one knows, the zo77ihies must never be permitted to 
taste salt or meat. So the food prepared for them was taste- 
less and unseasoned. 

As the zombies toiled day after day dumbly in the sun, 
Joseph sometimes beat them to make them move faster, but 
Croyance began to pity the poor dead creatures who should 
be at rest — and pitied them in the evenings when she dished 
out their flat, tasteless bouillie. 

Each Saturday afternoon, Joseph went to collect the 
wages for them all, and what division he made was no con- 
cern of Hasco, so long as the work went forward. Some- 
times Joseph alone, and sometimes Croyance alone, went to 
Croix de Bouquet for the Saturday night bamboche or the 
Sunday cockfight, but always one of them remained with 
the zombies to prepare their food and see that they did not 
stray away. 

Through February this continued, until Fete Dieu ap- 
proached, with a Saturday-Sunday-Monday holiday for all 
the workers. Joseph, with his pockets full of money, went 
to Port-au-Prince and left Croyance behind, cautioning her 
as usual; and she agreed to remain and tend the zombies. 



for he promised her that at the Mardi Gras she should visit 
the city. 

But when Sunday morning dawned, it was lonely in the 
fields, and her kind old woman’s heart was filled with pity 
for the zombies^ and she thought, “Perhaps it will cheer 
them a little to see the gay crowds and the processions at 
Croix de Bouquet, and since all the Morne-au-Diable peo- 
ple will have gone back to the mountain to celebrate Fete 
Dieu at home, no one will recognize them, and no harm can 
come of it.” And it is the truth that Croyance also wished to 
see the gay procession. 

So she tied a new bright-colored handkerchief around her 
head, aroused the zombies from the sleep that was scarcely 
different from their waking, gave them their morning bowl 
of cold, unsalted plantains boiled in water, which they ate 
dumbly uncomplaining, and set out with them for the town, 
single file, as the country people always walk. Croyance, in 
her bright kerchief, leading the nine dead men and women 
behind her, past the railroad crossing, where she murmured 
a prayer to Legba, past the great white-painted wooden 
Christ, who hung life-sized in the glaring sun, where she 
stopped to kneel and cross herself — but the poor zombies 
prayed neither to Papa Legba nor to Brother Jesus, for 
they were dead bodies walking, without souls or minds. 

They followed her to the market square, before the 
church where hundreds of little thatched, open shelters, used 
on week days for buying and selling, were empty of trade, 
but crowded here and there by gossiping groups in the 
grateful shade. 

To the shade of one of these market booths, which was 
still unoccupied, she led the zo7nbies^ and they sat like peo- 
ple asleep with their eyes open, staring, but seeing nothing, 
as the bells in the church began to ring, and the procession 
came^ from the priest’s house — red-purple robes, golden 
crucifix held aloft, tinkling bells and swinging incense-pots, 
followed by little black boys in white lace robes, little black 



girls in starched white dresses, with shoes and stockings, 
from the parish school, with colored ribbons in their kinky 
hair, a nun beneath a big umbrella leading them. 

Croyance knelt with the throng as the procession passed, 
and wished she might follow it across the square to the 
church steps, but the zombies just sat and stared, seeing 

When noontime came, women with baskets passed to and 
fro in the crowd, or sat selling bonbons (which were not 
candy but little sweet cakes), figs (which were not figs but 
sweet bananas), oranges, dried herring, biscuit, casava 
bread, and clairin poured from a bottle at a penny a glass. 

As Croyance sat with her savory dried herring and biscuit 
baked with salt and soda, and provision of clairin in the 
tin cup by her side, she pitied the zombies who had worked 
so faithfully for Joseph in the cane fields, and who now had 
nothing, while all the other groups around were feasting, 
and as she pitied them, a woman passed, crying, 

“Tablettes! Tablettes pistaches! T’ois pour dix cobs!” 

T ablet tes are a sort of candy, in shape and size like 
cookies, made of brown cane sugar {rapadou) ; sometimes 
with pistaches, which in Haiti are peanuts, or with cori- 
ander seed. 

And Croyance thought, “These tablettes are not salted or 
seasoned, they are sweet, and can do no harm to the zombies 
just this once.” 

So she untied the corner of her kerchief, took out a coin, 
a gourdon, the quarter of a gourde, and bought some of the 
tablettes, which she broke in halves and divided among the 
zombies, who began sucking and mumbling them in their 

But the baker of the tablettes had salted the pistache 
nuts before stirring them into the rapadou, and as the 
zombies tasted the salt, they knew that they were dead and 
made a dreadful outcry and arose and turned their faces 
toward the mountain. 

See page 99 

“No one dared to stop them, for they 
were corpses walking in the sunlight.” 



No one dared stop them, for they were corpses walking 
in the sunlight, and they themselves and all the people knew 
that they were corpses. And they disappeared toward the 

When later they drew near their own village on the slopes 
of Morne-au-Diable, these dead men and women walking 
single file in the twilight, with no soul leading them or 
daring to follow, the people of their village, who were also 
holding hamboche in the market-place, saw them drawing 
closer, recognized among them fathers, brothers, wives, and 
daughters whom they had buried months before. 

Most of them knew at once the truth, that these were 
zofnbies who had been dragged dead from their graves, but 
others hoped that a blessed miracle had taken place on this 
Fete Dieu, and rushed forward to take them in their arms 
and welcome them. 

But the zombies shuffled through the market-place, recog- 
nizing neither father nor wife nor mother, and as they 
turned leftward up the path leading to the graveyard, a 
v/oman whose daughter was in the procession of the dead 
threw herself screaming before the girl’s shuffling feet and 
begged her to stay ; but the grave-cold feet of the daughter 
and the feet of the other dead shuffled over her and onward; 
and as they approached the graveyard, they began to shuffle 
faster and rushed among the graves, and each before his own 
empty grave began clawing at the stones and earth to enter 
it again ; and as their cold hands touched the earth of their 
own graves, they fell and lay there, rotting carrion. 

That night the fathers, sons, and brothers of the zombies^ 
after restoring the bodies to their graves, sent a messenger 
on muleback down the mountain, who returned next day 
with the name of Ti Joseph and with a stolen shirt of Ti 
Joseph’s which had been worn next his skin and was steeped 
in the grease-sweat of his body. 

They collected silver in the village and went with the 
name of Ti Joseph and the shirt of Ti Joseph to a bocor 



beyond Trou Caiman, who made a deadly needle ouanga, a 
black bag ouanga, pierced all through with pins and needles, 
filled with dry goat dung, circled with cock’s feathers dipped 
in blood. 

And lest the needle ouanga be slow in working or be 
rendered weak by Joseph’s counter-magic, they sent men 
down to the plain, who lay in wait patiently for Joseph, and 
one night hacked off his head with a machete. . . . 

When Polynice had finished this recital, I said to him, 
after a moment of silence, “You are not a peasant like those 
of the Cul-de-Sac; you are a reasonable man, or at least it 
seems to me you are. Now how much of that story, honestly, 
do you believe?” 

Pie replied earnestly: “I did not see these special things, 
but there were many witnesses, and why should I not be- 
lieve them when I myself have also seen zombies? When 
you also have seen them, with their faces and their eyes 
in which there is no life, you will not only believe in these 
zo?nbies who should be resting in their graves, you will pity 
them from the bottom of your heart.” 

Before finally taking leave of La Gonave, I did see these 
“walking dead men,” and I did, in a sense, believe in them 
and pitied them, indeed, from the bottom of my heart. It 
was not the next night, though Polynice, true to his promise, 
rode with me across the Plaine Mapou to the deserted, 
silent cane fields where he had hoped to show me zombies 
laboring. It was not on any night. It was in broad 
daylight one afternoon, when we passed that way again, 
on the lower trail to Picmy. Polynice reined in his horse 
and pointed to a rough, stony, terraced slope — on which 
four laborers, three men and a woman, were chopping 
the earth with machetes, among straggling cotton stalks, a 
hundred yards distant from the trail. 

“Wait while I go up there,” he said, excited because a 
chance had come to fulfill his promise. “I think it is 
Lamercie with the zojnbies. If I wave to you, leave your 



horse and come.” Starting up the slope, he shouted to the 
woman, “It is I, Polynice,” and when he waved later, I 

As I clambered up, Polynice was talking to the woman. 
She had stopped work — a big-boned, hard-faced black girl, 
who regarded us with surly unfriendliness. My first impres- 
sion of the three supposed zofnbies, who continued dumbly 
at work, was that there was something about them unnat- 
ural and strange. They were plodding like brutes, like au- 
tomatons. Without stooping down, I could not fully see 
their faces, which were bent expressionless over their work. 
Polynice touched one of them on the shoulder, motioned 
him to get up. Obediently, like an animal, he slowly stood 
erect — and what I saw then, coupled with what I had heard 
previously, or despite it, came as a rather sickening shock. 
The eyes were the worst. It was not my imagination. They 
were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind, but 
staring, unfocused, unseeing. The whole face, for that mat- 
ter, was bad enough. It was vacant, as if there was nothing 
behind it. It seemed not only expressionless, but incapable 
of expression. I had seen so much previously in Haiti that 
was outside ordinary normal experience that for the flash 
of a second I had a sickening, almost panicky lapse in which 
I thought, or rather felt, “Great God, maybe this stuff is 
really true, and if it is true, it is rather awful, for it upsets 
everything.” By “everything” I meant the natural fixed 
laws and processes on which all modern human thought and 
actions are based. Then suddenly I remembered — and my 
mind seized the memory as a man sinking in water clutches 
a solid plank — the face of a dog I had once seen in the his- 
tological laboratory at Columbia. Its entire front brain had 
been removed in an experimental operation weeks before; 
it moved about, it was alive, but its eyes were like the eyes 
I now saw staring. 

I recovered from my mental panic. I reached out and 
grasped one of the dangling hands. It was calloused, solid, 



human. Holding it, I said, “Bon jour, compered The zombie 
stared without responding. The black wench, Lamercie, who 
was their keeper, now more sullen than ever, pushed me 
away — “Z'affaz’ neg’ pas z’affaf hlanc” (Negroes’ affairs 
are not for whites). But I had seen enough. “Keeper” was 
the key to it. “Keeper” was the word that had leapt natu- 
rally into my mind as she protested, and just as naturally 
the zombies were nothing but poor, ordinary demented 
human beings, idiots, forced to toil in the fields. 

It was a good rational explanation, but it is far from 
being the end of this story. It satisfied me then, and I said 
as much to Polynice as we went down the slope. At first he 
did not contradict me, even said doubtfully, “Perhaps”; but 
as we reached the horses, before mounting, he stopped and 
said, “Look here, I respect your distrust of what you call 
superstition and your desire to find out the truth, but if 
what you were saying now were the whole truth, how could 
it be that over and over again, people who have stood by 
and seen their own relatives buried have, sometimes soon, 
sometimes months or years afterward, found those relatives 
working as zombies, and have sometimes killed the man 
who held them in servitude?” ^ 

“Polynice,” I said, “that’s just the part of it that I can’t 
believe. The zombies in such cases may have resembled the 
dead persons, or even been ‘doubles’ — ^you know what 
doubles are, how two people resemble each other to a star- 
tling degree. But it is a fixed rule of reasoning in America 
that we will never accept the possibility of a thing’s being 
‘supernatural’ so long as any natural explanation, even far- 
fetched, seems adequate.” 

“Well,” said he, “if you spent many years in Haiti, you 
would have a very hard time to fit this American reasoning 
into some of the things you encountered here.” 

As I have said, there is more to this story — and I think 
it is best to tell it very simply. 

2 See Appendix, page 334. 



In all Haiti, there is no clearer scientifically trained mind, 
no sounder pragmatic rationalist, than Dr. Antoine Villiers. 
When I sat later with him in his study, surrounded by hun- 
dreds of scientific books in French, German, and English, 
and told him of what I had seen and of my conversations 
with Polynice, he said : 

“My dear sir, I do not believe in miracles nor in super- 
natural events, and I do not want to shock your Anglo- 
Saxon intelligence, but this Polynice of yours, with all his 
superstition, may have been closer to the partial truth than 
you were. Understand me clearly. I do not believe that any 
one has ever been raised literally from the dead — ^neither 
Lazarus, nor the daughter of Jairus, nor Jesus Christ him- 
self — yet I am not sure, paradoxical as it may sound, that 
there is not something frightful, something in the nature of 
criminal sorcery if you like, in some cases at least, in this 
matter of zombies. I am by no means sure that some of them 
who now toil in the fields were not dragged from the actual 
graves in which they lay in their coffins, buried by their 
mourning families!” 

“It is then something like suspended animation?” I 

I will show you,” he replied, “a thing which may supply 
the key to what you are seeking,” and standing on a chair, 
he pulled down a paper-bound book from a top shelf. It 
was nothing mysterious or esoteric. It was the current official 
Code Penal (Criminal Code) of the Republic of Haiti. He 
thumbed through it and pointed to a paragraph which read : 

“Article 249. Also shall be qualified as attempted murder 
the employment which may be made against any person of 
substances which, without causing actual death, produce a 
lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the adminis- 
tering of such substances, the person has been buried, the 
act shall be considered murder no matter what result 
follows.” ® 

® See Appendix, page 335, 

Chapter III 

toussel’s pale bride 

What proportion of the Haitian upper elasses believe 
secretly in sorcery and Voodoo is impossible to ascertain 
and difficult to guess. “Not one in a thousand,” I have been 
told. “Nine hundred and ninety-nine in every thousand,” 
I have also been told, and both answers came from Haitians 
who were themselves of that class. Yet I am convinced that 
neither answer was approximately correct. 

I believe, and this is ventured simply as an opinion, that 
very few of them adhere to Voodoo as a religion, but that 
a great majority of them fear its magic. 

Strange tales, however, are told in Port-au-Prince of both 
these phases of Voodoo in the boudoir and salon, and when- 
ever this subject becomes the topic of more or less confi- 
dential speculation, some one is always certain to recall and 
tell the story of how — and why — Pere Beranger, a Catholic 
priest as distinguished for his mundane elegance and the 
exquisite diction of his classical French sermons as for his 
inner piety, astounded his fashionable congregation one 
Sunday morning by mounting the pulpit and denouncing 
them in blunt jungle creole. 

Before coming to that, however, I must revert for a mo- 
ment to the peasants. If you stroll through any market, 
even in the cities, where country women are assembled with 
their produce, you will see here and there among them some 
woman fantastically garbed. She will be wearing usually 
a white dress, but an irregular shoulder of the dress may be 
black or glaring red, not dyed so, but a sort of huge, crazy- 
quilt patch sewn on. Another may wear a dress made entirely 

of large, angular, crazy-quilt cotton patches in clashing 




colors; another a bodice perpendicularly divided off center, 
so that two-thirds of the upper body is clothed in white, 
the other third, as if sliced off, in black. The effect is not 
gay or holiday-like, but conspicuous and grotesque. A 
woman thus garbed is usually sullen or defiant if she is 
questioned or eyed too curiously. Others may be seen more 
rarely, particularly on mountain trails, wearing coarse bur- 
lap sacks, with holes cut in the top for head and arms to 
come through. These are all penitential garments imposed 
by the papaloi, either as a penance for some offense com- 
mitted against the Voodoo gods, or to aid in the working of 
some charm, the averting of some impending evil, or the 
bringing about of some desired happening. The white 
Catholic priests, knowing the significance of these garments, 
generally bar peasants so clothed from entering a church 
or chapel. I recall one morning when, with Pere Pessel, cure 
of Trouin, walking with Dr. Parsons and me along a moun- 
tain trail near his chapel, we met a peasant girl of his flock 
in piebald garments. Pere Pessel was a tolerant old priest, 
but he became very angry, seized the girl by the arm, shook 
her, and talked to her bitterly. This explanation is neces- 
sary, to make clear what follows. 

The story of how Pere Beranger denounced his more 
exalted city congregation concerns a certain Madame Tel. 
No need to distress this proud lady by using her family 
name, which is distinguished among the aristocracy of the 
Haitian capital; but she was a beautiful creature, and 
neither the fact that she was married nor the fact that she 
was an exemplary devout member of Pere Beranger’s con- 
gregation — it was said that he used to lend her the mystical 
works of Saint Theresa, and that she sometimes had pious 
fits of melancholy in which she considered renouncing all 
vanities to enter a Carmelite convent — none of these things, 
I am told, eclipsed her dominating charm in worldly social 
gatherings, but rather, by adding an element of mysterious 
soulfulness, enhanced it. 



The story is that one night Madame Tel appeared late 
at a grand ball, more beautiful than usual, in a new gown 
from Paris, extremely becoming but slightly less decollete 
than was customary. This occasioned no surprise, for 
Madame Tel set fashions rather than slavishly followed 
them. She was eagerly sought by aspiring partners amid 
the brilliant crush, and her dance-card was soon filled. She 
refused champagne, but danced ravishingly, with aban- 
doned grace and a strange light in her starry eyes. Late in 
the evening — or early in the morning rather, since midnight 
was long past — she fell in a dead faint and was carried, 
still unconscious, to a couch in a retiring-room, followed 
by sympathetic ladies. Her bodice and corset were loosened, 
and sewn tightly next to her own delicate golden skin they 
found another bodice of roughly woven sisal fiber, an abra- 
sive plant of the cactus family, from which coarse rope is 

And sewn upon this inner bodice, which was harsher 
than any penitential shirt of haircloth or thistles worn by 
nuns in Saint Theresa’s time, so the ladies whispered after- 
ward, were the telltale Voodoo patches. 

Of course the scandal was whispered about, and even- 
tually came to the ears of Pere Beranger. Furthermore, there 
had been other whisperings, less sensational in their denoue- 
ment but almost equally disturbing to his piety, of other 
ladies who had been said to wear coarse sacking, colored 
patches, or little ouanga bags beneath their finery. And 
Pere Beranger, perhaps, had an exaggerated vision of all 
his flock repairing secretly by moonlight to the jungle. At 
any rate, when he mounted with dignity into the pulpit on 
Sunday morning, after mass, to preach, and his distin- 
guished congregation sat attending the customary eloquent 
phrases of Fenelon-like French purity which usually char- 
acterized his exquisite discourse, he clutched the rail, leaned 
forward, threw his dignity to the winds, and out of his 
mouth, inspired by righteous wrath, rolled sentence after 


sentence of the bluntest, lowest, most idiomatic creole 
dialect conceivable. 

They must have imagined, at his first words, that either 
they or he had gone mad. It was as if the fashionable rector 
of All Saints’ on Fifth Avenue had suddenly begun to ad- 
dress his parishioners in slang of the Bowery underworld, 
or as if the vicar of Saint Germain had assaulted the ears 
of his Parisian congregation with a volley of argot from 
the Halles. Yet here it was even worse; it carried an addi- 
tional, special, vigorous insult and indictment. In the 
parallel cases just drawn from fancy there would be many 
ears to which the slang and argot were incomprehensible. 
But in Haiti everybody knows creole, though among the 
upper classes it is considered bad form to admit a fluent 
knowledge of it or make use of it in refined circles. There- 
fore, at the outset, by this dramatic stroke. Fere Beranger 
was stripping them. 

“You sit there in your silks and high-heeled shoes,” he 
thundered, “but God only knows what you’re wearing 
underneath. . . . Ladies? Baahh! Superstitious savages, 
slicked up outwardly . . . heathen, pagan, snake-worship- 
ing, idolaters, some of you. . . . How do you expect to 
limp straddle-legged into heaven with one foot in the 
church and the other in the houmfort? . . 

They say that he passed from invective to pleading, that 
he discoursed, always in creole, for more than half an hour. 
It must have been a noble oration. 

But I am sure that pious Pere Beranger was over-out- 
raged, over-credulous, over-frightened, over-quick to gen- 
eralize. And concurrently, with less excuse, I should be 
blamable if I implied or created the impression that the 
Haitian upper world was mysteriously honeycombed with 
Voodoo. Such generalities have been asserted in print, but, 
as generalities, they are not dependable. I had many close 
friends among Haitians of this class, and aside from striking 
individual exceptions, it seemed to me that almost univer- 



sally they believed less in Voodoo than I myself did, that 
it concerned them less than it did me, concerned them in 
fact not at all — unless one of them should happen to be 
threatened with specific danger from it — and that in many 
cases they were quite ignorant about it, either indifferently 
ignorant or ignorant with curiosity, depending on their 
temperaments. I recall one night a family dinner at the 
Baussans’; Pradel was there, also Leonce Borno, nephew 
of the president and now consul-general in New York; a 
niece also, I believe of the president, a Mile. Mathon. I 
had returned from the mountains, and in answer to their 
questions was telling them of one of the simpler Legba 
ceremonies, something of the ritual processions and danc- 
ing, the chants, the names and attributes of various Voodoo 
deities — and all of them listened as fascinated and sur- 
prised as if I had been telling them of exotic customs in 
some far-off land of which they had vaguely heard but 
never visited. These things were totally outside their charm- 
ing civilized world, and I think this group was representa- 
tive of what I mean to convey. 

But nevertheless, mysterious and strange occurrences 
sometimes came to light in connection with people more or 
less high up in the city as well as with peasants in the 
jungle. And then one was compelled almost to doubt this 
very point I have been striving fairly to make — to wonder 
how many other strange things might be occurring which 
never came to light. My Haitian friends are sensitive on 
this subject. It may please them if I draw a certain parallel 
between Port-au-Prince and New York. Once in a blue 
moon, an accident or intervention of the law reveals to an 
astonished American public that in such-and-such a feudal 
thick-walled mansion on Manhattan, or huge isolated coun- 
try estate in Westchester or Nyack, things utterly mon- 
strous and chimeric have been secretly occurring — things 
madly fantastic and outside the civilized age we fondly 
think we are living in — things which make Caligula and 



Gilles de Retz mere amateurs. “How impossible !” we ex- 
claim when we learn of such a case, “how astounding!” 
But the next inevitable reflection is, “How many of these 
other thick-walled, many-chambered vast modern castles 
which we pass every day atop the bus, and yet know noth- 
ing more of their ultimate interiors than if they were on lost 
mountain-tops in China, may also contain mysteries that 
will never be revealed?” And how much more inevitable, 
even though perhaps unfair, are similar reflections in Haiti 
with its ever-present background of Voodoo and ancient 
jungle sorcery. 

The strangest and most chimeric story of this type ever 
related to me in Haiti by Haitians who claimed direct 
knowledge of its essential truth is the tale of Matthieu 
Toussel’s mad bride, the tale of how her madness came 
upon her. I shall try to reconstruct it here as it was told 
to me — as it was dramatized, elaborated, perhaps, in the 
oft re-telling. 

An elderly and respected Haitian gentleman whose wife 
was French had a young niece, by name Camille, a fair- 
skinned octoroon girl whom they introduced and sponsored 
in Port-au-Prince society, where she became popular, and 
for whom they hoped to arrange a brilliant marriage. 

Her own family, however, was poor; her uncle, it was 
understood, could scarcely be expected to dower her — ^he 
was prosperous, but not wealthy, and had a family of his 
own — and the French dot system prevails in Haiti, so that 
while the young beaux of the Hite crowded to fill her 
dance-cards, it became gradually evident that none of 
them had serious intentions. 

When she was nearing the age of twenty, Matthieu Tous- 
sel, a rich coffee-grower from Morne Hopital, became a 
suitor, and presently asked her hand in marriage. He was 
dark and more than twice her age, but rich, suave, and well 
educated. The principal house of the Toussel habitation, 
on the mountainside almost overlooking Port-au-Prince, was 



not thatched, mud-walled, but a fine wooden bungalow, 
slate-roofed, with wide verandas, set in a garden among 
gay poinsettias, palms, and Bougainvillaea vines. He had 
built a road there, kept his own big motor car, and was 
often seen in the fashionable cafes and clubs. 

There was an old rumor that he was affiliated in some 
way with Voodoo or sorcery, but such rumors are current 
concerning almost every Haitian who has acquired power 
in the mountains, and in the case of men like Toussel are 
seldom taken seriously. He asked no dot, he promised to be 
generous, both to her and her straitened family, and the 
family persuaded her into the marriage. 

The black planter took his pale girl-bride back with him 
to the mountain, and for almost a year, it appears, she was 
not unhappy, or at least gave no signs of it. They still came 
down to Port-au-Prince, appeared occasionally at the club 
soirees. Toussel permitted her to visit her family whenever 
she liked, lent her father money, and arranged to send her 
young brother to a school in France. 

But gradually her family, and her friends as well, began 
to suspect that all was not going so happily up yonder as 
it seemed. They began to notice that she was nervous in 
her husband’s presence, that she seemed to have acquired 
a vague, growing dread of him. They wondered if Toussel 
were ill-treating or neglecting her. The mother sought to 
gain her daughter’s confidence, and the girl gradually 
opened her heart. No, her husband had never ill-treated her, 
never a harsh word ; he was always kindly and considerate, 
but there were nights when he seemed strangely preoccupied, 
and on such nights he would saddle his horse and ride away 
into the hills, sometimes not returning until after dawn, 
when he seemed even stranger and more lost in his own 
thoughts than on the night before. And there was some- 
thing in the way he sometimes sat staring at her which made 
her feel that she was in some way connected with those 
secret thoughts. She was afraid of his thoughts and afraid 



of him. She knew intuitively, as women know, that no other 
woman was involved in these nocturnal excursions. She 
was not jealous. She was in the grip of an unreasoning fear. 
One morning when she thought he had been away all night 
in the hills, chancing to look out of a window, so she told 
her mother, she had seen him emerging from the door of a 
low frame building in their own big garden, set at some 
distance from the others and which he had told her was 
his office where he kept his accounts, his business papers, 
and the door always locked. . . . “So, therefore,” said the 
mother, relieved and reassured, “what does this all amount 
to? Business troubles, those secret thoughts of his, prob- 
ably . . . some coffee combination he is planning and 
which is perhaps going wrong so that he sits up all night at 
his desk figuring and devising, or rides off to sit up half the 
night consulting with others. Men are like that. It explains 
itself. The rest of it is nothing but your nervous imagining.” 

And this was the last rational talk the mother and daugh- 
ter ever had. What subsequently occurred up there on the 
fatal night of the first wedding anniversary, they pieced 
together from the half-lucid intervals of a terrorized, cower- 
ing, hysterical creature, who finally went stark, raving mad. 
But what she had gone through was indelibly stamped on 
her brain; there were early periods when she seemed quite 
sane, and the sequential tragedy was gradually evolved. 

On the evening of their anniversary, Toussel had ridden 
away, telling her not to sit up for him, and she had as- 
sumed that in his preoccupation he had forgotten the date, 
which hurt her and made her silent. She went away to bed 
early and finally fell asleep. 

Near midnight she was awakened by her husband, who 
stood by the bedside, holding a lamp. He must have been 
some time returned, for he was fully dressed now in formal 
evening clothes. 

“Put on your wedding dress and make yourself beauti- 
ful,” he said; ' “we are going to a party.” She was sleepy 

1 12 


and dazed, but innocently pleased, imagining that a belated 
recollection of the date had caused him to plan a surprise 
for her. She supposed he was taking her to a late supper- 
dance down at the club by the seaside, where people often 
appeared long after midnight. “Take your time,” he said, 
“and make yourself as beautiful as you can — there is no 

An hour later when she joined him on the veranda, she 
said, “But where is the car?” 

“No,” he replied, “the party is to take place here,” and 
she noticed that there were lights in the outbuilding, the 
“office” across the garden. He gave her no time to question 
or protest. He seized her arm, led her through the dark 
garden, and opened the door. The office, if it had ever been 
one, was transformed into a dining-room, softly lighted 
v/ith tall candles. There was a big old-fashioned buffet 
with a mirror and cut-glass bowls, plates of cold meats and 
salads, bottles of wine and decanters of rum. 

In the center of the room was an elegantly set table with 
damask cloth, flowers, glittering silver. Four men, also in 
evening clothes, but badly fitting, were already seated at 
this table. There were two vacant chairs at its head and 
foot. The seated men did not arise when the girl in her 
bride-clothes entered on her husband’s arm. They sat 
slumped down in their chairs and did not even turn their 
heads to greet her. There were wine-glasses partly filled 
before them, and she thought they were already drunk. 

As she sat down mechanically in the chair to which 
Toussel led her, seating himself facing her, with the four 
guests ranged between them, two on either side, he said, in 
an unnatural strained way, the stress increasing as he spoke: 

“I beg you ... to forgive my guests their . . . seem- 
ing rudeness. It has been a long time . . . since . . . they 
have . . . tasted wine ... sat like this at table . . . 
with . . . with so fair a hostess. . . . But, ah, presently 
. . . they will drink with you, yes . . . lift . . . their 

See page 118 

“Antoine Simone, president of the re- 
public. was active in black sorcery.’’ 



arms, as I lift mine . . . clink glasses with you . . . more 
. . . they will arise and . . . dance with you . . . more 
. . . they will . . 

Near her, the black fingers of one silent guest were 
clutched rigidly around the fragile stem of a wine-glass, 
tilted, spilling. The horror pent up in her overflowed. She 
seized a candle, thrust it close to the slumped, bowed face, 
and saw the man was dead. She was sitting at a banquet 
table with four propped-up corpses. 

Breathless for an instant, then screaming, she leaped to 
her feet and ran. Toussel reached the door too late to seize 
her. He was heavy and more than twice her age. She ran 
still screaming across the dark garden, flashing white among 
the trees, out through the gate. Youth and utter terror lent 
wings to her feet, and she escaped. . . . 

A procession of early market-women, with their laden 
baskets and donkeys, winding down the mountainside at 
dawn, found her lying unconscious far below, at the point 
where the jungle trail emerged into the road. Her filmy 
dress was ripped and torn, her little white satin bride- 
slippers were scuffed and stained, one of the high heels 
ripped off where she had caught it in a vine and fallen. 

They bathed her face to revive her, bundled her on a 
pack-donkey, walking beside her, holding her. She was 
only half conscious, incoherent, and they began disputing 
among themselves as peasants do. Some thought she was a 
French lady who had been thrown or fallen from a motor 
car; others thought she was a Dommicaine, which has been 
synonymous in creole from earliest colonial days with 
“fancy prostitute.” None recognized her as Madame Tous- 
sel ; perhaps none of them had ever seen her. They were 
discussing and disputing whether to leave her at a hospital 
of Catholic sisters on the outskirts of the city, which they 
were approaching, or whether it would be safer — for them 
— to take her directly to police headquarters and tell their 
story. Their loud disputing seemed to rouse her; she seemed 
partially to recover her senses and understand what they 



were saying. She told them her name, her maiden family 
name, and begged them to take her to her father’s house. 

There, put to bed and with doctors summoned, the family 
were able to gather from the girl’s hysterical utterances a 
partial comprehension of what had happened. They sent 
up that same day to confront Toussel if they could — to 
search his habitation. But Toussel was gone, and all the 
servants were gone except one old man, who said that 
Toussel was in Santo Domingo. They broke into the so- 
called office, and found there the table still set for six 
people, wine spilled on the table-cloth, a bottle overturned, 
chairs knocked over, the platters of food still untouched on 
the sideboard, but beyond that they found nothing. 

Toussel never returned to Haiti. It is said that he is 
living now in Cuba. Criminal pursuit was useless. What 
reasonable hope could they have had of convicting him on 
the unsupported evidence of a wife of unsound mind? 

And there, as it was related to me, the story trailed off 
to a shrugging of the shoulders, to mysterious inconclusion. 

What had this Toussel been planning — what sinister, 
perhaps criminal necromancy in which his bride was to be 
the victim or the instrument? What would have happened 
if she had not escaped? 

I asked these questions, but got no convincing explana- 
tion or even theory in reply. There are tales of rather 
ghastly abominations, unprintable, practiced by certain sor- 
cerers who claim to raise the dead, but so far as I know they 
are only tales. And as for what actually did happen that 
night, credibility depends on the evidence of a demented 

So what is left? 

What is left may be stated in a single sentence: 

Matthieu Toussel arranged a wedding anniversary sup- 
per for his bride at which six plates were laid, and when 
she looked into the faces of his four other guests, she went 

Chapter IV 


Two burnt matches crossed and fastened together with a 
bit of scarlet thread lay unnoticed one afternoon in the 
spring of 1921 on the great marble staircase of the new 
presidential palace at Port-au-Prinee. 

On the top steps of that same white marble staircase, 
very much noticed, stood his Excellency Sudre Dartigue- 
nave, president of the Black Republic. 

Below on the lawn a fanfare of bugles sounded, and at 
the foot of the staircase the motor of the presidential 
limousine purred softly, waiting to convey his Exeellency 
to a reception in his honor at the Erench legation. President 
Dartiguenave was a bachelor beau, and there were always 
a lot of pretty women of various colors at these French 
legation funetions in the gay capital of Haiti. 

Faultlessly attired in frock coat, pin-striped trousers, 
pearl-gray spats, and patent leathers, twirling his imperial 
waxed mustache with kid-gloved fingers, Sudre Dartigue- 
nave, who liked to be told that he resembled Napoleon III 
(in bronze, of course), strolled slowly down the great 
marble steps of the presidential palace to the accompani- 
ment of bugle fanfares. At his left was young Captain Jones 
of the United States Marine Corps, blond, glittering and 
magnificent in his special uniform as Commander of the 
Palace Guard. At his right was Ernest Lalo, suave, charm- 
ing brown-skinned Haitian poet and friend of Maurice 
Rostand. Outside the iron palings in the Champs de Mars, 
crowds hearing the bugles had stopped to glimpse the presi- 
dential sortie. 


1 16 

How the two burnt match-ends fastened together with a 
bit of thread happened to lie there tiny on the immense 
white staircase seems almost less of a mystery than how 
President Dartiguenave chanced to spy them. . . . 

But he did spy them, directly on a step beneath him, as 
his foot was poised, and he recovered his balance with some 
difficulty, recoiling upward as if he had been about to tread 
on a tarantula. 

Then, hoping that his eyes had deceived him, he bent 
over in a somewhat undignified posture to examine the 
menacing object more closely. Having thus verified his 
original suspicion, he asked advice of nobody, neither his 
American bodyguard nor his Plaitian poet friend, nor the 
black senators and white Marine Corps officers who waited 
below. He turned and retraced his steps up the great marble 
staircase, reentered the palace, and retired to the presi- 
dential bed chamber, where with the aid of Captain Jones, 
who was sympathetic if skeptical, he took off his patent 
leather shoes, and took off his collar, paced up and down 
the floor in his stocking feet, and then sat for a long time 
staring out of the window. . . . 

Two small charred sticks crossed and fastened together 
with a bit of string, black or red, are not uncommon in 
Haiti. One frequently sees them, usually laid on a new 
grave, some say for a black curse, others say so that the 
spirit can kindle a little blaze and warm its hands in the 
cold other-world ; but whatever their purpose, not even the 
relatives dare remove them without first consulting a bocor 
or a papaloi. Americans have also sometimes seen them 
nearer home than in a graveyard. When they occur on the 
doorstep of a kitchen, it is usually necessary to go looking 
for a new cook. President Dartiguenave, however, had rnore 
nerve than that. It was not necessary for the American 
treaty officials to go looking for a new president.^ But he 
did not attend the reception at the French legation, nor 
did he stir from the palace for three whole days, and unless 



he was more foolhardy than I think, he took eertain needful 
precautions, for matters of this sort sometimes go deeper 
than white men ever dream. 

Haiti, of course, buzzes continually with exaggerated 
tales of “Voodoo in the palace” and other political high 
places,^ and many of them are untrue, but some very queer 
things have actually happened within quite recent years. 
One of the queerest occurred in 1910, prior to the contre- 
temps of Dartiguenave and the burnt match-ends. It was 
under the regime of President Antoine-Simone. It also oc- 
curred in bright sunshine with martial music, but it involved 
much more than a couple of burnt match-ends. 

Antoine-Simone was no sophisticated product of mixed 
aristocratic blood, French culture, and European universi- 
ties. He was of black African savage stock, peasant born, 
an old-fashioned black revolutionary “general” from the 
south, former chief of a section rurale. With a rag-tail 
“army” he erupted from Jacmel in 1908, defeated the gov- 
ernment forces of Nord Alexis, and installed himself in 
the old wooden palace which was in the Champs de Mars 
on the site of the present new one. He continued to wear 
his general’s uniform with huge gold epaulettes and re- 
venged the smiles and sneers of the Port-au-Prince elite 
by making himself an opera bouffe tyrant, forcing all 
Haitians and even foreigners to stop stockstill in the street 
and uncover their heads when he passed in his carriage. 

He installed in the palace with him as first lady of the 
land his daughter Celestine. She also was a black peasant, 
not beautiful except for her superb peasant’s figure; she 
had none of the culture or refinement of the exquisite 
mulatto creatures who form the cream of Port-au-Prince’s 
feminine society — but Celestine was a personality. Al- 
though under thirty, she was reputed to be secretly the 
grande matnaloi of all Haiti, its supreme high priestess. 

1 See Appendix, page 335. 



And not only Celestine herself but her father, Antoine- 
Simone, president of the Republic, was reputed to be active 
in black sorcery. It was commonly said that magical rites 
and practices occurred even within the confines of the palace 
walls, and probably they did. 

On the surface, however, both the president and his 
daughter were devout Catholics, and attended mass regu- 
larly at the cathedral. So also were most of the officials and 
attendants at the palace. 

One day Colonel X , of Aux Cayes, a black member 

of the presidential household, fell seriously ill. It was a 
bona-fide illness, with nothing sinister or mysterious about 
it. He had been suffering intermittently from cirrhosis of 
the liver for years. When it became apparent that he was 
going to die the gentlemen of the clergy were called in to 
hear his confession, anoint him with holy oils, and perform 
their other sad, consoling offices, which they did with con- 
siderable ceremony, seeing that he was a member of the 
presidential entourage. And that night, surrounded by mem- 
bers of his family who had come from Aux Cayes, with 
nurses and physicians properly in attendance. Colonel 
X died. And all this was sad but wholly natural, with- 

out mystery of any sort. 

The solemn obsequies which followed two days later also 
seemed to be natural and proper. That is to say, the open 
coffin with the mortal remains of the late colonel exposed 
to the view of mourning relatives and friends lay all day 
Wednesday in the palace, and on Thursday morning the 
same coffin, now closed with the lid screwed down, was con- 
veyed with considerable pomp in a hearse with plumes to 
the cathedral, where it presently lay before the high altar 
covered with a black pall on which was laid a great silver 
crucifix, while a high requiem mass was sung for the soul 
of the dead. 

And while the solemn strains of the Kyrie Eleison, the 
Credo and the Agnus Dei sounded through the cathedral. 



President Antoine-Simone and his daughter Celestine knelt 
and crossed themselves devoutly with the rest. 

Presently the mass concluded with the Dies Irae, the 
funeral cortege set out for the cemetery. They do these 
things superbly in Latin America. Leading the way went the 
palace band, resplendent in gold braid, playing the Dead 
March from Saul. At a suitable distance followed the ec- 
clesiastical procession, a tall black acolyte bearing the cru- 
cifix aloft in the sunshine, a procession of little black altar 
boys in their white lace surplices, swinging censers; then 
the priests, the celebrant of the mass with his servants, 
deacons and subdeacons in their rich funeral vestments of 
black and silver. 

Next came the plumed hearse drawn by six horses, also 
plumed, and after it the carriages, in the first of which rode 
the president of the Republic and his daughter, Celestine, 
with discreet, sad, solemn faces. 

It was after the coffin had actually been lowered into 
the grave that trouble began to brew — and how it started 
has never been quite clear. Some say that one of the pall- 
bearers didn’t like the “feel” of the coffin, others that rela- 
tives of the dead man had become suspicious, others that 
the priest celebrant had smelt an ancient odor which was 
not that of sanctity. 

As I say, it occurred only after the coffin had been low- 
ered into the grave, sprinkled with holy water, marked 
with the sign of the cross. As the final solemn “Requiescat 
in pace’ was about to be pronounced, there was a sharp 
pause, a quick consultation among the priests, doubt, sus- 
picion, horror reflected on their faces, then a stern whis- 
pered order, and the coffin was dragged up from holy 

No one had a screw-driver, but the lid was pried open 
with a machete borrowed from a peasant in the crowd, ex- 
posing to view not the whole interior of the coffin, but the 
head and shoulders of the deceased. 



Now the head which the priests and others who crowded 
close beheld was black and bearded, but in no other respect 
did it resemble that of the late Colonel X , or of any- 

thing human. It was surmounted by two horns, like those 
of the devil himself. In short, it was the head of a great 
he-goat — a pagan, hairy, dreadful, dead he-goat which the 
innocent, now outraged priests had been blessing and sprin- 
kling with holy water and marking with the sign of the 
cross and committing to holy ground — a goat which had 
lain beneath a crucifix before the high altar in the cathedral, 
a goat for which a solemn requiem mass had been chanted 
— a consecrated goat which His Worship the Archbishop 
himself had only been prevented from following to the 
grave because of a slight cold in the head. 

The scandal, of course, was tremendous. Its percussions 
even reached Rome. The archbishop sent for President An- 
toine-Simone, with threats of excommunication and anath- 
ema, and the president went apologetically, dutifully to 
make his explanations, for Haiti is a Catholic country, and 
not even its president can flout the church. I doubt that 
Antoine-Simone had meant to flout the church. Rather he 
had probably sought to compound his own black magic 
with white, in which he believed with equal sincerity. 

The president’s explanation was plausible, and of course 
a lie. It had been a malicious plot contrived by his political 
enemies to bring him into disgrace. They had gained access 
to the palace by night and substituted the goat in the coffin. 
By the way, what disposition had his worship made of the 
goat? The goat had been exorcised and burned. The presi- 
dent stroked his own short, goatlike beard reflectively, and 
made no comment. 

It was deemed wise to accept the explanation, but no 
one believed it, for this was not the first time that the odor 
of the goat had permeated the presidential palace. The 
actual explanation of this whole fantastic occurrence is, up 
to a point, simple enough. Celestine and Antoine-Simone 



were steeped in Voodoo magic. For purposes known specifi- 
cally only to themselves, they had required, for some 
extraordinary rite, the body of a goat which had been 
blessed and made holy by the church. The requirement, fan- 
tastic as it sounds, is not without frequent parallels in Haiti. 
Precisely what they had proposed to do with the sanctified 
goat is beyond my knowledge. 

Antoine-Simone, deposed by revolution in 1911, fled to 
Jamaica and died there some years ago, but Celestine is 
still alive in Haiti. She who was once the dreaded mistress 
of the palace lives in complete retirement on a small farm 
near Aux Cayes. She does not like Americans ; I made sev- 
eral unsuccessful efforts to see her. I wanted to ask her 
about the famous MacDonald pearl necklace, which is the 
reason why she doesn’t like Americans. Perhaps she was 
suspicious that I wanted to ask her about the silver dish. 

The story of the silver dish is based on the evidence of 
two credible eye-witnesses, one a Frenchman who may still 
be seen and talked with at the Cape, the other a Haitian 
now dead. I talked with numbers of people about it and 
found none who questioned its approximate truth. It is 
current among the Haitians themselves ; so they will forgive 
me for including it.^ 

The old wooden palace stood in the center of the Champs 
de Mars, amid extensive gardens, surrounded by a fence, 
with a clear lawn at the front, but winding pathways amid 
tropical foliage with pergolas and little summer-houses in 
the rear. At the rear also were the presidential stables, and 
these stables were sometimes used for purposes other than 
the stabling of horses. Senators, officialdom, foreign consuls, 
and respectable visitors came in at the front gates past the 
sentry-boxes, but through the stables were habitually ad- 
mitted persons of all sorts with whom Antoine-Simone had 
business which concerned him rather than the Republic of 

2 See Appendix, page 336. 



Haiti, and these, when known and trusted by the stable 
sentries, made free of the back gardens. 

One moonlight night in the spring of 1909 — it was dur- 
ing Easter week — the Frenchman who now lives at the 
Cape was sitting in one of the little vine-covered summer- 
houses with his Haitian friend, holding a long private con- 
versation. They were in that particular secluded spot be- 
cause they did not want to be seen or overheard. They had 
come late, separately, to the previously arranged rendezvous, 
and sat there talking until long after midnight. 

Toward one o’clock in the morning they heard a tramp- 
ing of feet from the direction of the palace, and presently 
saw a black sergeant with two squads of soldiers marching 
toward the stable yard, along a pathway of the deserted 
gardens. They passed close to the summer-house. Behind 
them, at a little distance, came Celestine. She was bare- 
footed, in a scarlet robe, and carried in her hands a silver 

In a small, open moonlit glade close to the summer-house, 
the sergeant halted his eight men and lined them up at at- 
tention, as if on a parade ground. Except for his low-voiced 
commands, not a word was spoken. Celestine, in her red 
robe which fell loose like a nightgown to her bare feet, laid 
the great silver platter on the grass. 

The sergeant handed Celestine a forked bent twig, a sort 
of crude divining-rod, and stepped back a little distance. 
Celestine, holding the wand loosely before her, facing the 
eight soldiers standing at attention, began a gliding, side- 
stepping dance, singing her incantations of mixed African 
and creole in a low voice alternating from a deep guttural 
contralto to high falsetto, but never raised loudly, pointing 
the wand at each in turn as she glided to and fro before 

The men stood rigid, silent as if paralyzed, but follow- 
ing her every movement with their rolling eyeballs as she 
glided slowly from end to end of the line. 



For a long ten mmutes that seemed interminable, Celes- 
tine glided to and fro, chanting her incantation, then sud- 
denly stopped like a hunting-dog at point before one man 
who stood near the center of the row. The wand shot out 
stiff at the end of her outstretched arm and tapped him on 
the breast. 

la soule^ avant!” ordered the sergeant. (You there, 
alone, step forward.) 

The man marched several paces forward from the ranks, 
and halting at command, stood still. The sergeant, who 
seemed unarmed, drew the man’s own knife-bayonet from 
its scabbard, grasped the unresisting victim by the slack of 
his coat collar, and drove the point into his throat. 

While this was taking place, the other seven men stood 
silent obediently at attention. The victim uttered not a 
single cry, except a gurgling grunt as the point went through 
his jugular, and slumped to the grass, where he twitched a 
moment and lay still. 

The sergeant knelt quickly over him, as if in a hurry to 
get the job finished, ripped open the tunic, cut deep into 
the left side of the body just below the ribs, then put the 
knife aside, and tore out the heart with his hands. 

Black Celestine in her red robe, holding the gleaming 
platter before her, returned alone beneath the palm trees 
to the palace, barefooted queen of the jungle, bearing a 
human heart in a silver dish. 

Vart Three: 


Chapter I 


In the opening chapter of this book, I mentioned a High 
Commissioner and his lady. I seem to have left them seated 
with Katie and the colonel on a front veranda while I 
climbed over the back fence with Louis and ran av/ay to the 

I propose now a return by way of the front gate, to the 
dichromatic social world of Haiti’s urban capital, under 
our own benevolent American protectorate. 

The High Commission, with its resident Marine Corps 
— its colonels, majors, wives, and machine guns — its civilian 
treaty experts and technicians borrowed from the Navy — 
has introduced a number of constructive changes in the 
social-economic life of Haiti. 

Among these changes are excellent roads, sewers, hos- 
pitals, sanitation, stabilized currency, economic prosperity, 
and political peace. 

But we are more than crass materialists. 

The most interesting and pervasive of the American in- 
novations is the belated lesson in race-consciousness which 
we have been at pains to teach the Haitian upper classes. 

These urban Haitians, free, vain, independent, and 
masters in their own land for a long hundred years or more, 
had accumulated money, education, a literature, an aristo- 
cratic tradition, and had somehow forgotten that God in 
His infinite wisdom had intended the negroes to remain 
always an inferior race. Indeed, as many Americans in Haiti 
will testify, there were members, whole families and social 
groups among the upper class, who were proud of being 
Haitians, proud actually of being negroes. 




And one of the most difficult problems of the American 
occupation has been to teach these people their proper 
place. It has been difficult, because the Haitians have re- 
fused to accept this lesson graciously. It has been doubly 
difficult because a very important minority among the 
Americans have complicated the problem by treating the 
Haitians as if they were white. 

Consequently this needful reform has not been quite so 
successful as the stamping out of malaria, but notable prog- 
ress has been made. 

I should say that only a rhinoceros could be unconscious 
of his skin in Port-au-Prince today. 

And this would hold true regardless of whether the rhin- 
oceros’ inch-thick hide were black or white, for a situation 
has developed so fantastic as to be unthinkable in most parts 
of the United States; there are Haitians who draw a re- 
verse color line and dare to despise white people. 

Katie and I had encountered this topsy-turvy reversal 
of natural phenomena on the first days of our arrival in 
Port-au-Prince, and had found it somewhat bewildering. 

It was a queer and in a way quite interesting experience, 
to be distrusted and occasionally despised for impersonal 
reasons connected solely with the pigmentation of one’s 

I felt like a blind man walking on eggs for the first day 
or two in Haiti. Then I dropped in to see Christian Gross, 
the American Charge d’ Affaires, who had lived for years in 
Paris. We had mutual friends. To Mr. Gross I am indebted 
for the beginning of my first real orientation. The tangled 
social scene under the American occupation, I learned from 
him, was in some respects more simple than I could possibly 
have guessed. It seemed to have certain fixed, definite rules. 
What made it difficult was that there were many irregular- 
ities, exceptions to these rules. In this respect it was like 
Latin grammar. 



Early in our conversation he mentioned putting my name 
up at the American club and offered me a guest card mean- 
while. I suggested that this might prove embarrassing later 
to my American friends, since I had letters to numerous 
Haitians and hoped to be invited to their clubs and homes. 

“It isn’t so bad as that,” he said. “I am a member at 
Mariani (the fashionable Haitian country club), and so 
are a number of other Americans. If you suffer embarrass- 
ment later, it will not be with us but with your Haitian 
friends, for although you may be invited to their clubs and 
entertained delightfully if they like you personally, you 
cannot reciprocate by inviting any Haitian to our club — 
not even the president of the Republic. Amusing, isn’t it? 
We hold an open annual tennis tournament, in which both 
Haitians and Americans play; but it has to be held every 
year at Mariani because no Haitian may enter our club.” 

It sounded to me more or less insane, and I ventured to 
say so. 

“As a matter of fact,” he continued, “there is no general 
social mingling between the Americans and Haitians, except 
on formal official occasions. The Marine Corps, which is 
still here as an armed force, has almost no social contact 
with the Haitians — and this by a cordial, mutually recip- 
rocated consent. Outside of the Marine Corps there are 
many exceptions to the general rule, and even a few within 

By the way, changing the subject, where were we stop- 
ping? At the Belvidere. Mr. Gross advised me, purely as 
a matter of comfort, pending our house-hunting, to move 
up on the hill to the Hotel Montagne; we’d find it cooler 
and more spacious ; it was an old converted palace, with a 
fine view of the city and bay. 

Meanwhile, he said, this might be as good a moment as 
any to step upstairs to the office of the High Commission 
and pay my respects informally to General John H. Russell. 

My last personal contact with a military High Commis- 



sioner had been a somewhat similar call on General Sarrail 
in Syria, and I suppose it was from my vivid recollection 
of his Ruddygore cheeks, fierce mustache, gold braid, 
medals, and clanking spurs — or perhaps it was merely from 
reading The Nation — that I rather expected to meet a 
military martinet. Instead, I found a phlegmatic gentleman 
in civilian clothes, with a vague resemblance to Punch, 
except that his chin was more of the bulldog type. I learned 
that General Russell, whose mission in Haiti carries the 
rank of ambassador, had chosen never to wear his Marine 
Corps uniform. He seemed to me, in our first brief chat, 
a man without sparkle, wit, or special intelligence, but 
solidly endowed with character and common sense. I found 
no reason later to alter materially these impressions. 

Mr. Gross telephoned to the Hotel Montagne, arranging 
for our immediate accommodation, and suggested that he 
would drop by in the late afternoon and take us to the club, 
where we might find a game of tennis if I liked. 

We wound upward toward the Hotel Montagne, passing 
beautiful villas, set behind walls amid palm trees, with 
glimpses through grilled gates of lovely lawns and tropical 
gardens. Immediately beyond this hill with its palaces and 
estates rose the tangled slopes of Morne Hopital, the jungle 
mountain creeping down to the edge of the city, primitive 
and eternal as if patiently biding its time to reclaim its own. 

The hotel itself was a rectangular three-storied palace, 
curiously ecclesiastical in architecture. There were bits of 
stained-glass window here and there, stone balustrades 
and cornices which shouted, “Pax vohiscumT I won- 
dered if it had been built by a bishop. Madame Shea, the 
proprietress, who had a tired smile, and a chattering mar- 
moset on the end of a silver chain, told us that it had been 
built by a black president with material stolen from the 
half-finished cathedral, as a home for one of his mulatto 


He had certainly done well by his mulatresse. A big 
veranda, now the dining-terrace, looked out through tropi- 
cal foliage with clambering pink Bougainvillaea blossoms 
upon a panorama of sea and mountains which neither 
Algiers nor the Bay of Naples could surpass. Haiti, thus 
viewed, was a paradise. From an upper terrace, adjacent to 
which Madame Shea installed us in a clean, airy bed-cham- 
ber, we could see the towering peaks of Santo Domingo’s 
central range, a hundred miles away. 

In the later afternoon, Mr. Gross appeared and took us 
in his roadster to the American club, on Turgeau, another 
villa-dotted slope ten minutes distant. It was children’s 
day, and all the little American children with their nurses 
were scattered about the lawn, while a band in the pergola 
played “Katinka.” General Russell was already on the 
court, volleying down the sidelines against a lank, familiar- 
looking figure who turned out to be William Beebe. I played 
singles with a Major R. H. Davis of the Marine Corps, 
while Mr. Gross and Katie met the wives of various officers 
and treaty officials on the terrace. Before sunset the band 
played the Haitian national anthem. All the little Ameri- 
can children with their nurses arose and stood charmingly 
at attention — all the American grown-ups too, including 
General Russell, my opponent Major Davis, and the other 
officers in flannels on the tennis courts, who stopped their 
play and snapped smartly to salute for the Haitian national 
tune. I wondered whether this gracious demonstration of 
esteem would comfort me if I were an aristocratic Haitian, 
barred from this club’s sacred portals by a Jim Crow rule 
which probably no Haitian had dreamed could exist in his 
own free republic until we came down to befriend them. 

It may seem that I am over-emphasizing this color ques- 
tion, but it would be futile to attempt any true picture of 
the urban Haitian scene today without giving it the all- 
pervasive, equivocal, and frequently acute predominance 
which it actually has. 



Major Davis and I had grown friendly during our tennis 
game. He invited me home with him to dinner; we found 
our respective wives on the veranda, who had met and were 
also friendly. His house, a wide-porticoed mansion with 
enormous rooms and acres of formal garden, had been built, 
I believe, by another revolutionary president. On this first 
evening, the Major and I formed one of those sudden friend- 
ships destined to last because it was based on violently 
candid disagreement, openly arrived at. We disagreed fun- 
damentally and vigorously on every subject from Henry 
Ford to religion, women, the meaning of marriage, the art of 
Picasso, and the future of the Chinese, until our wives cried, 
“For heaven’s sake, shut up, the two of you!” He promised 
to take me guinea-hunting. He advanced the dictum mean- 
while that “all writers and artists were more or less nuts,” 
and when, as he had been praising the wisdom of Congress, I 
declared, to annoy him, that “all congressmen were fat- 
heads and most of them crooks,” he replied without rancor 
that his own father was a congressman and that I was a 
God-damned Bolshevik, just as he had suspected from the 
first. The only thing we agreed on was the quality of his 
sixteen-year-old Haitian rum. 

Inevitably we touched upon what Major Davis called 
“the nigger question.” Mrs. Davis had been asking about 
life among the Arabs. The Major said, “Well, of course, 
you’ll never be able to get as close as that to the Haitians; 
you won’t want to; of course you’ll meet them and see them, 
as we all have to do sometimes, but you won’t want to be 
intimate.” I said, “Why not? I understand that they are 
interesting, that many of them are well worth knowing.” 
He replied, “Yes, but after all they are niggers. You can’t 
get away from that.” 

And so we were off, full steam ahead. “If you had a 
daughter, etc., etc.,” said Major Davis; and, “Suppose your 
own sister, etc., etc.,” to which I replied, without knowing 
whether I was telling the truth or not, that if I had a daugh- 



ter I’d rather she’d, etc., etc., including the subsequent baby, 
with a good Haitian if she loved him, than with a bad blond 
Nordic she didn’t love. 

“You’re as crazy as hell,” said the Major, “and besides 
you haven’t got a daughter.” But he didn’t throw me out 
of his house. He invited me to have another drink, and dur- 
ing the months which followed he invited us back many 
a time to his house, despite the fact he knew we might have 
been dining or dancing with Haitians the previous evening. 
I am anxious to present Major Davis fairly, because he 
seems to me important as being typical of most Marine 
Corps officers in Haiti today. I never saw him commit a 
brutal act, never even an intentionally offensive gesture 
toward any Haitian. There is no question involved here of 
swaggering about in Prussian boots and pushing people off 
the sidewalk. Reports of that sort, in my sincere belief, after 
living in Haiti with my eyes open, are propagandist rot. 
We had to kill a few of them at first, for various reasons. 
But that is all fortunately ended. Our attitude now in Haiti 
is superior, but kindly. 

Chapter II 


Leonce Borno, Haitian consul-general in New York, had 
written concerning us to his kinsman, Georges Baussan, 
Haiti’s leading architect, who had designed the new 
national palace. 

One morning soon after we were installed in the Hotel 
Montagne, a barefooted black wench tapped at our door 
and presented Monsieur Baussan’s card on a silver tray. 
I mention the tray because this same wench had deemed 
her own dark and not too clean paw adequate for the cards 
of previous white callers. These amusing little variations do 
not occur by accident in Haiti. They frequently hll Ameri- 
cans with impotent or explosive rage. Pretense that the 
servants are dumb affords a fictitious safety-valve. 

I found Monsieur Baussan on the terrace, tropically at- 
tired in white linen, tentatively twirling his watch-chain, 
standing at a distance and with his back turned to some 
elderly American women who were rocking and buzz-buz- 

Haitians were no longer “encouraged” to stop at the 
Hotel Montagne, but the big terrace-veranda was neutral 

Monsieur Baussan was a griffe, that is to say brown- 
skinned, midway between black and mulatto; he was past 
middle age, a large man, heavy, handsome, with fine mus- 
taches, kinky hair; in his intelligent face there was an ex- 
pression of veiled sadness, which, combined with his bulk 
and the slight yellow tinge in the whites of his eyeballs, 
made me think of a fine Saint Bernard dog. 




Monsieur Baussan was tentative. Above all he was tenta- 
tive. He was tentative even after I had insisted on his tak- 
ing the better chair and offered a light for his cigarette. 

M. Baussan was only a microscopic shade less tentative 
when Katie presently appeared. He remained tentative in- 
deed to the last, when, after chatting for some twenty min- 
utes, he said good-by. It was not coldness or uncordiality. 
It was subtle, studied self-protection. It was curious, slightly 
uncomfortable, and very interesting. 

Three afternoons later, we returned Monsieur Baussan’s 
call. The high-walled gardens and villa were only a stone’s 
throw from the hotel. Monsieur had not yet returned from 
his office, but would be coming soon. Madame Baussan, 
mulatto, slender, pretty, and much younger than her hus- 
band, received us with shy grace, on a luxurious rug-strewn 
veranda. The furniture was mostly of pale-green painted 
wicker, for coolness; there were also pieces of native ma- 
hogany. On tables and taborets were strewn recent Paris 
fashion magazines, a Mercure de France, a number of 
French and German novels, recent journals in those two 
languages, a piece of embroidery on which Madame had 
been stitching. I observed no English or American publica- 
tions. Apparently, the culture of the Baussan family de- 
rived exclusively from the Continental. 

A butler came presently, uncalled, with grenadine in tall 
glasses, the edges of their rims frost-crusted with crystals 
of rose-colored sugar. ‘'Would Monsieur prefer a brandy 
and soda? Non? Perhaps later then, when Monsieur Baus- 
san arrived. He should be coming any moment now.” 

I ventured to disclose that when Madame had received 
us, I had mistaken her for a daughter of the family. She 
was not displeased. She explained that for her husband this 
was a second marriage. The first Madame Baussan had died 
some years before, leaving three daughters and a son, now 
grown. They were off at a the dansant this afternoon, but 
another day . . . Meantime she would like us to see her 



own children. They appeared presently with a maid, who 
stood in the doorway shooing them forward — Pierrot, about 
four, a little, coatless Lord Fauntleroy in velvet knickers 
and wide Windsor collar, woolly-haired and dark-skinned, 
who sucked his thumb and ran to mamma — six-year-old 
Marcelle, lighter and curly-haired, who made a pretty 
curtsy and was rewarded with a bonbon, while Master 
Pierrot could have none until he came back and shook 
hands with the visitors. Eventually he climbed into Katie’s 
lap, and his little sister, observing this, lisped, as if she 
had found the solution of something that had been vaguely 
puzzling her mind, “Cest une dame frangahe alors^ 
Mam an?” 

It occurred to me that an analysis of the implications be- 
hind that infantile and apparently trivial question might 
have a more important bearing on the final solution of the 
Haitian problem than all the tons of senatorial investiga- 
tion, inquiries, and reports. 

Madame Baussan meanwhile replied simply in answer 
to the apparently so simple query, “Mais non^ Marcelle^ 
c’est une da?ne americaine” 

Monsieur Baussan now arrived and seemed pleased to 
see us. We strolled about the garden, where he pointed out 
pomegranate trees, breadfruit, cocoanut, and less familiar 
fruit-bearing sapodillas, caimitiers, and cceurs-de-hceuf. He 
called a yard-boy who climbed one of the cocoanut trees, 
barefooted, like a monkey or a jumping-jack, up the smooth, 
tall trunk, and clinging among the fronds, twisted off heavy 
cocoanuts in their thick, green-yellow husks, which dropped 
and plopped violently on the lawn. The boy slid down, 
found a machete, and chopped through husk and shell with 
a single glancing blow; the butler brought glasses with ice, 
into which the sweet, cloudy milk was poured, with a dash 
of rum. To me it was sickly and unpleasant. I tried some 
without the rum and found it worse. Monsieur Baussan 
thought it might be an acquired taste, but said that he also 
cared little for it. 



Through a gate in a brick wall we entered the rose gar- 
den, which sloped down a hillside, There were acres of roses, 
white, yellow, red, covering the slope; the soft evening air 
was fragrant with their odor. It appeared that my host was 
an amateur des roses. He had eight hundred bushes, includ- 
ing varieties which had come from all parts of the world. 
He told me with pride that it was the finest rose garden in 
Haiti, perhaps in the whole West Indies. Madame plucked 
an armful, and to see her bending among the buds and full- 
blown flowers was charming. She herself was like a yellow 
rose. Her pale golden skin was faintly flushed with pink. 
Her cheeks were like the petals of a pale yellow rose. 

When we returned to the veranda, Madame Baussan 
spread out the multicolored roses in her lap, and began 
removing thorns from their long stems. Katie said, “Oh, but 
that is too much!” Madame replied, “No, only these white 
ones have thorns; all the other varieties are sans e pines.” 

Was she being amiably matter-of-fact, or was this the 
quintessence of a subtlety, cynical and barbed, yet elusive 
as the musk of the plucked roses? 

Madame was smiling, and we could not guess. Nor could 
we guess whether there was any intangible connection be- 
tween this episode and the fact that Monsieur Baussan, 
almost as if to announce the termination of tentative pro- 
tective subtleties, suddenly recollected that there was to be 
a ball at Bellevue (the ultra-exclusive Haitian town club) 
on the following evening, and said they would be charmed 
if we cared to attend it as their guests. 

Next morning we received cards to the ball, inscribed 
with the names of Monsieur and Madame Baussan. It was 
being given for the officers of the Royal Swedish battleships 
on world-tour, which lay at anchor in the bay. 

Arriving at the Bellevue next evening, it might have 
been any club on a gala night at Nice, Marseilles, New 
Orleans, except for the darker skins of the arriving guests; 
there were jammed limousines, traffic policemen with spe- 



cial details holding back the crowds which craned their 
necks as the fashionable Hite descended from their cars to 
the canvas-covered pavement and trailed up the staircase 
beneath a striped canopy. 

Except in the foyer of the Paris opera house during the 
war, I have never seen anything so brilliant and formal, 
yet so gay, as the picture presented by the great main ball- 
room as we stood for a moment in its doorway while our 
host was being sought. 

Here was assembled the native aristocracy of Haiti, its 
brains, wealth, and beauty, its inner circle; and recalling 
that these people had come up from plantation slavery in 
the brief cycle of a century, it was very interesting. 

It became immediately apparent that this aristocracy was 
principally mulatto, but by no means entirely so. Here and 
there were coal-black dowagers seated proudly at their ease, 
coal-black demoiselles dancing; over yonder former Presi- 
dent Legitime, with a powerful head like that of an aged 
Roman senator carved in ebony. But these stood out sharply. 
Between these pure blacks and the dominant pale mulatto 
tone with its lighter shades of quadroon and octaroon, there 
was a considerable element of brown like my friend Mon- 
sieur Baussan, who had appeared meanwhile and was escort- 
ing us to a terrace opening on the ballroom, where we found 
Madame Baussan with Seymour Pradel, the leading lawyer 
and bachelor beau of Port-au-Prince society; also a Mon- 
sieur Roi whose face, although it was so dark as to be almost 
black, with its aquiline nose, thin lips, and finely molded 
skull, showed not the slightest trace of what is loosely asso- 
ciated with the word negroid. It required no poring over 
the historical pages of Moreau de Saint Mery to understand 
that the seventeenth-century slavers had been, to say the 
least, careless in selecting their supposed “human cattle” 
for West Indian export. Here flowed the blood of warriors 
and chiefs. Revolt, uprising, massacre, were bound to follow 
the enslavement of such types as these. Came presently, 



asking Katie to dance, young Maurice de Joie, with the 
face of an Iroquois who had stepped from the pages of 
Fenimore Cooper to masquerade in modern evening clothes, 
and proud as Satan of a descent traced back, Madame told 
me, to one of the great African princely families on the 
southern edge of the Sahara. 

Madame Baussan and I strolled among the tables on the 
terrace, toward the dance floor. She designated various in- 
dividuals or groups, pausing occasionally for introductions. 
Except for the Swedish naval officers in their resplendent 
glittering full dress, there were few whites present — Mr. 
Edwards, the British consul-general, with his lady, small 
family groups from the other European legations — an 
American naval commander. Dr. Paul Wilson, head of the 
Haitian General Hospital. Dr. Wilson was in civilian 
clothes. There is a rule at the Club Bellevue that no Ameri- 
can in military uniform may enter its doors — histoire of an 
evening ten years ago when General Smedley Butler was 
told, after too pointedly folding his hands behind his back, 
or something of the sort, that his presence was socially ob- 

While dancing with Madame Baussan, I noticed, gliding 
in the arms of the tall flaxen-haired Swedish admiral, a 
tall, pale-brown-skinned lithe creature of whom my hostess 
said proudly in answer to my query, “That is Therese, our 

There was no crush on the floor, so that I was able to 
observe her closely. She was slightly darker than mulatto. 
She was a tall, strong, slender hamadryad in pale bronze. 
She was like a pale bronze nymph come to life from the 
Luxembourg gallery, but fitted in the Rue de la Paix with a 
scant clinging frock of old rose shot with gold, pale gold 
stockings, and high-heeled slippers. Her figure was revealed 
candidly as the current world-wide fashion is. Her legs, her 
ankles, arched instep, and long, slender feet were Louis 
Quinze rather than sculptural. It was interesting because of 



the general Anglo-Saxon belief that persons of partial 
African descent invariably lack grace in this particular. 

As Mile. Therese glided close beside us in the arms of 
the blond Swedish admiral she said, “Tu f amuses bien^ 
Maniany Big, sultry brown eyes flashed, wide-set beneath 
a low forehead; there was a touch of cruelty, sauvagerie^ 
I thought, in the wide, short chin, cobra-like cheek bones, 
the mouth like a slashed red fruit; a touch of negroid too 
in the chin and slightly retrousse nose, a touch also which 
suggested the face of Faustina on old Roman golden coins, 
Pola Negri as the wife of Pharaoh. Her hair, bobbed in an 
almost Egyptian style, was crinkly. She was too wise in her 
sure beauty to straighten it by pomades or tricks. She was 
Africa, yet not quite Africa, Africa of the poets rather than 
of the ethnologists and explorers. 

Later I was presented to Mile. Therese and we danced. 
Her conversation, French, was the usual banal social patter. 
There was a restraint and poise in her talk and in her danc- 
ing, yet in her ’cello-like contralto voice and the swaying 
of her body there lurked potentialities neither banal nor 
restrained. Shut behind the fashionable convent culture, 
the Paris-gowned sophistication, the facile small talk, some- 
thing was asleep, yet not asleep, like a caged panther dream- 


Sitting opposite Mile. Therese at midnight, with Mon- 
sieur Baussan at the head of a long table, glittering with 
long-stemmed champagne glasses, massed roses, and pink 
trailing vines of Belle Mexicaine, I reflected on the strange 
biological-hereditary processes that had culminated in his 
daughter. It occurred to me that in terms of cold science, 
if not by more conventional standards, she represented a 
fusing of the highest selective elements in both the white 
and negro races. I shall try to explain presently what I 
mean by “highest.” Assuming that these highly selective 
elements were fused in her, I wondered whether she repre- 
sented some ultimate future type, superior perhaps to any- 



thing that either race alone could breed, and which, a thou- 
sand years or ten thousand years hence, might become the 
dominant superior world-type. I wondered whether even 
now, an unprejudiced, detached ethnologist visiting the 
earth from another planet would not deem Mile. Therese 
superior in physical beauty and strength, in richness of 
potentiality, perhaps also in pigmentation, to any purely 
white or purely negro type. 

The first French colonial planters and slave-owners were 
pre-Napoleonic aristocrats, viscounts and marquises, gentle- 
man adventurers. The slaves were not imported from thick- 
lipped Congo stock alone, but from diverse and widely 
scattered African peoples, including the royal Dahomey 
strain and many of tall Zulu warrior caste. Slightly de- 
cadent but authentic aristocratic blood, cross-breeding with 
strong, rich primitive blood, makes an excellent biological 
mixture. The French colonial masters chose mistresses and 
concubines from their slave girls. They chose the prettiest, 
healthiest, and most desirable. It was deplorable morally if 
you like, but it was biologically sound. It was probably also 

As a cross-strain in the white blood of Mile, Therese, who 
now sat opposite me toying with her champagne glass, there 
may also have been blood of the buccaneers, the pirates and 
adventurers of the golden days in the Spanish Main. 

As I sat speculating about Mile. Therese in terms of her 
ancestors — the slave-owning marquis with his jeweled snuff- 
box, the swashbuckling buccaneer captain in plumed hat 
and^ lace, the pretty dark-skinned slave mistresses and con- 
cubines — it occurred to me how very interested, and per- 
haps astonished, the ghosts of her various ancestors would 
be if they could come back on this stroke of midnight and 
see the ultimate product of their fusing, this rather gorgeous, 
poised, modern creature with her crinkly hair, Egyptian- 
bobbed, and high-heeled gold slippers, dancing with the 
tall blond Swedish admiral — ^belle of the ball at Bellevue. 

Chapter III 

“the truth is a beautiful thing” 

“You will be entertained this afternoon,” said my white 
friend Ash Pay Davis, “for I’ve invited Ernest Chauvet to 
call and meet you. We’ll loosen up with a few rum cock- 
tails and weep together over Haiti’s tragic fate.” 

“Who is Ernest Chauvet?” I asked, and Ash Pay 
sketched Chauvet’s background quickly. 

Chauvet was the chief thorn in the flesh of the American 
occupation, owner and editor of the Nouvelliste, violently 
anti-American and consequently anti-Borno. Every little 
while President Borno threw him in jail, where he enjoyed 
himself hugely, devoured whole roast turkeys, drank cham- 
pagne, and thumbed his nose at the wide world outside. 
But even his bitterest political enemies, including some of 
the American treaty officials whom he belabored and tra- 
duced outrageously in his editorial column, liked him as an 
individual because of his wit, gay amiability, and cynical 
candor. Most of the little Americans feared and despised 
him, but it seemed that he was on terms of curious intimacy 
with some of the big chiefs, as for instance with my present 
host Ash Pay, active head of the American Chamber of 
Commerce in Haiti, who, though in no way connected with 
the official administration, was a close personal friend of 
Borno and at that time an ardent advocate of the Ameri- 
can-Borno regime. 

Ash Pay told me that Ernest Chauvet’s father, now dead, 
founder of the Nouvelliste, a distinguished editor and pub- 
licist, planning to bequeath the journal to his son, had sent 

young Ernest first to Paris for university education, and 



then to New York to get his practical newspaper training 
on the Brooklyn Eagle. Young Chauvet had worked on the 
Eagle for two years, first as a reporter and then as a feature 
writer. In New York he had never been regarded as a negro, 
and his wit had made him popular in Bohemian journalistic 

Returning to Haiti, on his father’s death, he had suc- 
ceeded to the proprietorship of the Nouvelliste. In the first 
Borno presidential election, conducted under “supervision” 
of the American Treaty Mission, Chauvet’s father-in-law, 
Stephen Archer, had been the opposing candidate, and 
young Chauvet, with Latin dramatics and tears, but per- 
haps with his tongue in his cheek, had proclaimed that it 
would be his sacred duty for the honor of the family to con- 
tinue opposing Borno and the Americans forever. 

How much his opposition was based on patriotism, how 
much on family loyalty, how much on sheer cynical devil- 
ment, Ash Pay doubted if Chauvet himself could honestly 
have told. 

Meanwhile a car was coming up the driveway. It stopped 
before the palm-shaded terrace, and out bounced Ernest 
Chauvet. He was youthful, large, ebullient, and fat. He 
wore a big wide-brimmed smoke-tan cowboy hat, which he 
removed and flourished. In his white linen he was like a 
snow-covered mountain. His clear skin seemed only faintly 
tanned rather than mulatto, his hair was wavy brown, his 
eyes pale greenish blue, wide-set in a splendidly shaped 
large head. He was handsome, decidedly a beau garcon de- 
spite his fatness. 

Ascending the steps, he shouted to Ash Pay, “I bring 
something for your friend,” shook hands with careless cor- 
diality, and handed me a copy of his newspaper. It was an 
afternoon edition, still wet from the press. On its front 
page was an editorial leader some quarter of a column long, 
entitled, with a question mark, “L’Americain, Seabrook?” 
The tenor of it was that another “friend of the iniquitous 



military occupation,” a writer absurdly claiming to be 
open-minded, had arrived in Port-au-Prince ostensibly 
to “write the truth about our unhappy country,” and as 
usual was spending all his time at the American club, spon- 
sored by American officials, and that he was now the house- 
guest in the home of “the very man whose gigantic schemes 
to rob the poor Haitian peasants of their lands filled all 
patriots with horror” (meaning our mutual friend Ash Pay, 
who was handing him a cocktail). 

When I had finished reading this, Chauvet lifted his glass 
toward mine and said with a gay, expansive grin, “Gesund- 
heit; how you like it? And how you like our rum?” 

I said, “I like your rum all right — Gesundheit to you — 
but how can you expect a writer to write the truth about 
Haiti when you mix it up at the start by writing a lot of 
goddamned lies about him? Ash Pay here was telling me 
you had your training on the Brooklyn Eagle, but I doubt 
it. I think you must have got your start on the yellow sheets. 
Furthermore you are a liar, as you’d know if you’d been at 
your own Bellevue club last night. While you were cooking 
up this tripe, Mrs. Seabrook and I were dancing and drink- 
ing champagne with Haitian friends and having the time 
of our lives — the best since we were last in Paris.” 

“Sure thing,” he agreed, grinning; “I know it. My friend 
Pradel told me all about it.” 

“Then why this stuff?” 

“Oh,” said Chauvet, “I must be faithful to my sub- 
scribers, They’d be disappointed. Even the Americans. They 
all read it. They’d feel cheated if I didn’t do my stuff. Be- 
sides, news and gossip are scarce just now. Tomorrow I can 
write something nice about you, and so I’ll have two articles 
instead of one.” 

“All right, my friend,” said I; “but since we are both 
writers, let’s try a little fifty-fifty. It so happens that I am 
really going to try to write truthfully about Haiti — not any 
partisan, political, propagandist, or ‘devastating’ truth, but 


just to describe your interesting people as they really are, 
or at least as they seem to me. I am not down here to attack 
the occupation, and I’m not down here to defend it. I’m not 
interested in politics. I’m interested in people.” 

“Fine,” said Chauvet; “it’s a good idea, if you’re not 
lying. You must let me know any time I can help you.” 
During the next two hours Ash Pay, Chauvet, and I con- 
sumed a good many rum cocktails there on the terrace be- 
neath the palm trees. I doubt, despite Omar Khayyam and 
the Latin proverb, that any profound philosophic truth has 
ever leapt from the wine-cup, but I do believe that convivial 
drinking occasionally promotes the uninhibited expression 
of opinion. I believe that I may have learned more from 
Chauvet that afternoon concerning the real feelings of many 
upper-class Haitians toward the Americans in Haiti than 
I could have gleaned from a thousand formal reports or 
more restrained discussions. 

“The Americans have taught us a lot of things,” Chauvet 
was saying. “Among other things they have taught us that 
we are niggers. You see, we really didn’t know that before. 
We thought we were negroes. 

“Now I, my friend, je m' en fiche, je ni’en fou^ je en 
foute that I am a nigger. I laugh and grow fat. For me such 
things are comedy. But for others, who are more easily hurt 
than I, these things are not always so comic.” 

Chauvet paused. His face clouded. For the first time that 
afternoon he was serious. “You understand French, of 
course,” he said to me. “Perhaps I could explain this matter 
to you. I can’t do it in English because I have lost the psy- 
chology of speaking seriously in English. I am always rag- 
ging and kidding. ~Eh bien, alors.” 

Chauvet continued in Erench. There was more than a 
difference of tongue, however. It was as if a different man 
were speaking. 

“When the Americans landed in Haiti twelve years ago, 
there existed in our cities a free, proud aristocracy. We re- 



garded ourselves as human beings like any others. We were 
masters in our own land. And no whites who came to our 
country could prosper or be happy here without accepting 
us as such. This condition had existed for more than a cen- 
tury, almost as long as the life of your own republic. 

“The homes of our so-called elite, our intellectuals and 
higher bourgeoisie, equaled in refinement those of the best 
European countries. Our culture was in the French tradi- 
tion. Our sons, in many cases, had attended the French uni- 
versities, our daughters the Catholic convent schools in 
France, and this, my friend, in many families, for a num- 
ber of successive generations. 

“Our homes, our clubs, our social life were like those of 
any other civilized country. White foreigners who visited 
or settled in Haiti were received as guests in our homes, 
frequently married among us. 

“If you have read French books like that amusing volume 
Au Pays des Generaux, or books like L’Herisson’s Sena 
written by our own native satirists, you may think I am 
exaggerating this picture. But with these, though they have 
sometimes made us squirm, it has been like Alphonse Daudet 
poking his fun at the Meridionals. We have had our Tar- 
tarins, also our comic opera generals, our foibles, our ridic- 
ulous side, but those Europeans who have exploited them in 
literature or laughed at them in life have never injected the 
wholly different element of social-racial contempt. 

“No ! It remained for the Americans, first the Marine 
Corps military occupation and then the treaty civilians, to 
inflict upon us that insult in our own free land. And it has 
been more than a matter of hurt pride. It has brought some- 
thing shameful. It has made many of us ashamed in our 
hearts of our own race, ashamed of our birth and of our 
families and of the blood that flows in our own veins. For 
not all are strong enough to laugh and say ‘Je en fiche’ as 
I do. . . .” 

Chauvet was still enlarging on his theme when Ash 


Pay’s eighteen-year-old daughter Elsa, blonde, popular 
debutante of American society in Port-au-Prince, cantered 
up the driveway and leaped off her pony. 

Chauvet had been saying that American women in Haiti 
were “worse than American men” — that while certain offi- 
cers and important civilians maintained at least a pretense 
of politeness, even sometimes cordiality, the wives and 
daughters of these same men in most cases held themselves 
contemptuously superior. So Miss Elsa’s arrival at that 
moment seemed to me especially interesting. 

The three of us arose as she came smiling up the steps, 
with a “Hello, everybody,” hugged her father, “Hello, 
Chauvet, I’m just down from Kenscoff. Gee, what a change 
in the temperature! You ought to ride up there oftener, you 
wouldn’t be so fat.” She shook hands with Chauvet, and 
said, “How do you do” to me more formally — we had met 
only once before. Would she have a cocktail? No, thanks, 
what she wanted was a shower. She chatted a moment and 
was gone. 

I looked at Chauvet. It had all been so entirely casual. It 
had been more casual than if she had sat down with us for a 
cocktail she didn’t want. It seemed to me that she had 
treated Chauvet neither as a negro nor as a white man, but 
simply as “a human being like any other.” In my mind I 
was quoting Chauvet’s own phrase against him, and he knew 
precisely what I was thinking, though I said nothing. 

Chauvet grinned, accurately reading my thoughts, but 
as if he felt that the joke, if it could be called such, was at 
my expense rather than his own. 

“So! I am a liar again! Do not be deceived, my friend. 
Elsa is no typical American. She is scarcely an American at 
all. Madame Davis, her mother, you know, is a lady, most 
gracious and high-born, from the land of Ibsen and the 
reindeers. Ash Pay Davis here is an American, a robber of 
oppressed peoples, a bloody capitalist. He will steal our 
whole Artibonite valley maybe, but meanwhile he is charm- 



ing, a civilized gentleman of the world. Now let me tell ; 
you a real joke. On this entire island there are perhaps eight 
or a dozen American women who meet our Haitian elite 
without contempt or patronage, and these same eight or a 
dozen are perhaps the only American women on the island 
who, when they return to their native America, are at home 
in their own high society, Newport, Bar Harbor, Park 
Avenue, yachts in the Sound, boxes at the opera, snapshots 
in the rotogravure sections, and prize pups at the Madison 
Square Garden. 

“The biggest joke of all is that one of these ladies is 
Madame John Henry Russell, wife of the High Commis- 
sioner! Madame la Generale. She, that lady, she is what 
you call international society; she is at home in Mayfair, she 
is at home in the palaces of Chinese mandarins, and she is 
at home here. Ulle s' en fiche the color lines drawn by Ameri- 
can women whose social experience has been previously 
limited to Marine Corps posts and their own small towns 
in Alabama or Nebraska. 

“It is said, more often by the Americans than by us, that 
Madame Russell, because of her high official importance, ' 
is being diplomatic, and, of course she is, but that doesn’t L 
mean she’s hypocritical. Anyway Haitians like her, and 
despite my own noble patriotic efforts to have General 
Russell and his whole damned Marine Corps thrown out on 
their leather necks, I think we’d all be sorry to see Madame 
Russell go. 

“But it is a grand joke, isn’t it? The general’s wife in- 
vites us to tea and finds us charming, but the sergeant’s wife, 
or the captain’s, who maybe did her own washing at home, 
is our social superior and would feel herself disgraced to 
shake hands with any nigger. 

“Do you wonder that I say je m' en foute de tout fa, that 
I find it ironic? Why, many of those white Marine Corps 
people couldn’t have entered my mulatto father’s house 
except by the servants’ entrance, and they can’t enter my 


house now by any entrance, except to arrest me once in a 
while — which reminds me that the last captain who did 
come to arrest me is a grand bozo who had been at my house 
several times before, and welcome. So now I am a liar after 
all. He telephoned me first to ask if it would be convenient. 
I was up at the villa in Petionville where we’d often played 
bridge together. We had a pint of champagne before we 
started for the hoosegow. Happy days ! There are a few like 
that in the Marine Corps, mostly Yankees, who had it in 
their beans before they ever came to Haiti that all negroes 
were not cornfield coons.” 

Chauvet had reverted to English again, or rather to the 
American vernacular he had learned in New York, and I am 
quoting his literal words here unclouded by translation. 

He continued: 

“Now if the Americans were all like that, I don’t mean 
if they were all gentlemen — that would be an absurdity — 
you can’t pick an army of occupation from the Social Regis- 
ter or drill them with salad forks — but if they were gen- 
erally people who regarded us as human beings — well. I’m 
still against the occupation for lofty patriotic reasons which 
have nothing to do with racial prejudice, but if they used 
more tact, more common sense, sent down here only people 
who were free of this crazy prejudice, there wouldn’t be all 
this added unnecessary mess which has made more mutual 
dislike, distrust, and trouble than all the senatorial bowl- 
ings and journalistic rows since the caco revolution. 

“By the way. Monsieur the writer, you said something 
about being in Haiti for human-interest stuff. Maybe this 
is human interest. But maybe it is too human. You couldn’t 
publish it. Too much under the skin. Lily-white skin, black 
skin. All the world’s kin, Shakespeare . . . Madame Rus- 
sell . . . and the sergeant’s wife, and us niggers . . .” 

“Chauvet,” said I, “we’re getting drunk, but the truth 
is a beautiful thing. The truth is a beautiful thing even 
when it’s tangled and in doubtful taste.” 

Chapter IV 

“ladies and gentlemen, the president!” 

The chastely engraved card, large as a wedding invitation 
or a Christmas greeting, said simply: Le Prhddent de la 
Republique d’HaitL 

On its blank reverse was written in ink — “Recevra Mon- 
sieur IV. B. Seabrook au Palais National le jeudi 6 Janvier 
courant, a 4 h.p.m.” 

There was also an engraved coat-of-arms — ^parked canon 
and furled flags beneath a palm tree. 

My wateh said only half-past three; so I decided to im- 
prove the interval by dropping in for a moment at Marine 
Brigade Headquarters to confirm a guinea-hunting engage- 
ment with some of the gentlemen whose armed presence in 
Haiti, sitting on the lid, is perhaps the reason why the local 
artillery remains peacefully parked beneath a palm tree. 

Of the six presidents who had sueeeeded eaeh other some- 
what rapidly just prior to our intervention, one had been 
blown up in his palace, one poisoned, one assassinated, an- 
other torn into little pieces. 

The Brigade was installed precisely in the old Guillaume 
Sam palace before whose gates, only ten years before, a 
black woman had been biting chunks out of that defunct 
president’s bleeding heart. 

It was only a three-minute walk across the tranquil 
Champs de Mars with its bandstand, lawns, monuments, 
drill grounds, and boulevards, to the handsome new presi- 
dential palaee more permanently and safely inhabited by 
his Excellency Louis Borno. 

Past sentries, up a great white glaring stairway almost 



as impressive as that at Washington, escorted then through 
superb corridors by an aide in glittering uniform, I found 
myself presently sitting all alone in a vast, bare salon, 
twiddling my thumbs. 

The interior of the palace seemed drowsy, quiet, in the 
tropical midafternoon. Through a partly opened door, I 
could see the marble flagging of what seemed to be a wide 
inner corridor. This angular section of marble floor framed 
in the half-shut doorway was flooded with sunlight. Pres- 
ently across it a black shadow passed. At regular intervals 
this black shadow passed again. It was the head and shoul- 
ders of an American soldier, sharp, foreshortened on the 
sunlit marble floor, the silhouette of a shouldered rifle and 
fixed bayonet, a wide-brimmed U.S. army hat, a Frederick 
Remington detail in chiaroscuro. The silhouette was as ut- 
terly American as a brass band blaring the “Star-Spangled 
Banner.” I tiptoed to the door and peeped at the man. And 
it seemed amazing that his face was black. It was illogical, 
of course, that it seemed so amazing. There had been our 
own black troops in precisely these accoutrements at San 
Juan Hill. And I had already seen a thousand black gen- 
darmes similarly uniformed here in Haiti. It was because 
I had first seen this man as a shadow. Now he seemed to 
me something which had been masqueraded and projected 
on a screen. As a barefooted Haitian peasant in overalls, he 
had been himself. Just what was he now^ 

As I wondered about him, I began wondering in the same 
way about President Borno, whom I was presently to meet. 
Was he too a shadow silhouette projected on a screen? Was 
he Russell’s magic-lantern toy? 

It was so easy, I reflected, as I sat there twiddling my 
thumbs, to find politicians, statesmen, patriots, propagan- 
dists, imperialists, anti-imperialists, both in Haiti and 
Washington, who could answer such questions categorically ; 
our occupation (or mission, if you choose) in Haiti is selfish, 
it is unselfish, tyrannical, benevolent; the best Haitians 



like us, the best Haitians hate us, Borno is a patriot, he’s a 
traitor, he’s a puppet, he’s a smarter man than Russell, he’s 
a monkey on a stick. . . . The only difficulty with these 
categorical affirmations was that they somewhat contra- 
dicted each other. 

Monsieur Leys, cabinet secretary, entered briskly, cor- 
dially, interrupting my reflections. Monsieur Leys wore a 
little Napoleon III beard elegantly trimmed, a frock coat 
with braided edges, the inevitable bit of French colored 
ribbon in its lapel. He made elegant French gestures and 
phrases. He was a typical ministry secretary of the Elysee, 
except that his face was black. If Monsieur Leys was an 
American-controlled shadow, he was projected by a card- 
board stamped Fabrique en France. 

Monsieur Leys threw open two sliding doors and ushered 
me into a richly furnished drawing-room, slightly too 
ornate, with a gilded boule clock and statuettes in marble 
and bronze, oriental rugs, two or three vases filled with deep 
pink roses. 

The President of Haiti entered this drawing-room at the 
same moment from a private door. 

Monsieur Borno was smaller of stature than one would 
guess from his pictures. He was a dapper little man, elderly, 
almost foppish in his sartorial elegance, but with a fine in- 
tellectual head. His brow had dominated his photographs, 
but his eyes dominated the man; they were serious and 
rather arresting eyes, behind his pince-nez with its dangling 
ribbon. He was a pale mulatto ; he was clean-shaven except 
for a small close-trimmed mustache ; his features had almost 
no trace of negroid; his thick iron-gray hair, curly but not 
kinky, receded from a high forehead. 

There was more than a bit of the scholarly dandy in him, 
a shade too meticulous I thought — professorial ; but there 
was no academic coldness in the man really, I discovered as 
we talked. He lacked humor, and it seemed to me also. 


though I somewhat revised the opinion later, that he lacked 

He was outwardly cordial, but formal, on his guard. My 
letters to him had said I was a writer. So he talked, in pre- 
cise book English, on the subject in which an American 
writer no doubt should have been primarily interested — the 
improvement of conditions in Haiti under the American 
treaty (which, by the way, Borno’s own pen had signed). 
It was all doubtless important but dry and statistical; for 
instance, the construction of 1,349 miles, or maybe it was 
kilometers, of highways. The figures meant nothing to me. 
I’m probably quoting them inaccurately now. But it gave 
me a sort of picture when he said: 

“You know in 1915? when the Americans landed, there 
was exactly one automobile in Haiti, an old Ford. Many 
Haitians were rich enough to own fine cars, but there was no 
place to drive them. There were no roads outside the cities. 
Traveling from Port-au-Prince to Cap Haitien was a matter 
of days on horseback — weeks if the rivers were in flood. 
Now there are more than 12,000 motor cars, and we trav- 
erse our little country from south to north in a single 
day. . . 

By the way, there was to be a presidential tournee 
through the north this same month to dedicate the new 
bridge, Pont Christophe. Perhaps I might care to be one of 
the party. If so, arrangements could easily be made, and I 
should see for myself. ... I thanked him and accepted. 
It was the moment to take leave. As I arose he inquired about 
his nephew. Monsieur Leonce Borno, in New York. I was 
able to tell his Excellency that Monsieur Leonce had ap- 
peared to be in the best of health and spirits, that we had 
dined together just prior to my departure, and that he had 
presented Mrs. Seabrook with a copy of the Haitian Anthol- 
ogy of Poetry, in which I had had the pleasure of reading 
some of his Excellency’s own verses. 

This reminded him that Madame Borno would be pour- 



ing tea on Thursday afternoon — quite informal. There 
would be tennis first in the palace gardens. 

When I say that it was like an operetta on a two-acre 
stage — this tennis party in the palace gardens when Thurs- 
day afternoon came round — I do not mean opera bouffe or 
comic opera; I mean something like Offenbach or Strauss, 
modernized; it was gayer, more colorful, more kaleidoscopic 
than anything I was accustomed to connect with official 
social gatherings. 

The tropical setting may have contributed slightly to this 
theater-like impression — the wide green lawns, trellised 
summer-houses and pavilions, vine-covered and flaming 
with bright blossoms, white gravel paths and marble-flagged 
promenades bordered by flowers, the cycloramic backdrop 
curtain of the mountains. But it was the crowd itself, really, 
that was kaleidoscopic, variegated, chromatic, brilliant. 

Pretty Haitian girls and women were everywhere, some 
in ultra-fashionable creations from France; slender, silken 
legs, tapering to high-heeled slippers; chic hats and parasols, 
lips scarlet-rouged; others in tennis costume, athletic, flat- 
shod, with gay sweaters and vividly striped blazers. Their 
skins were of every tint from seeming pure, creamy white, 
shading through rose-glowing Spanish brunette to mulatto, 
cafe au lait, brown, black; they were like the ladies made of 
plaster and metal in fashionable gown-shop windows on 
upper Fifth Avenue, or like Byzantine polychromes; bare 
arms, necks, and faces mat gold, copper, bronze, even onyx, 
animated and alive. 

Among the men, who composed at least half the gay 
mingling crowd, there was equal variety of pigmentation 
and almost equal kaleidoscopic variation in costume, since 
some were smartly attired for tennis, some in white, some 
dark frock-coated, many blazing with gold braid and bright- 
colored military decorations, tall, dusky, handsome, crinkly- 
haired young native officers of the palace guard. 

See page 15^ 

“ . . . face mat gold like 
a Byzantine polychrome.” 



It was all very gay, very charming to the eye, very cos- 
mopolitan, I thought. The tennis, it proved, was serious. 
Six courts were going, mostly mixed doubles; long rows of 
chairs placed irregularly, comfortably on the lawn were 
filled with ladies watching the play; men and some of the 
young girls who were garbed for tennis sat on the grass. 

My gray flannel slacks and an old mingled sweater Jack 
Dempsey had given me in Buffalo, which had been respect- 
able enough, I hope, at Forest Hills, seemed a bit seedy in 
this fashionable company, especially after I found Mr. 
Christian Gross immaculate and swanky, but I was eager to 
play, and he had obligingly arranged for some doubles on 
a court which would soon be vacated. 

My partner was a gingerbread-colored damsel almost as 
swankily sports-garbed as Mr. Gross. She could hit the ball 
and had a forehand drive that became finally the deciding 
element in our match. Mr. Gross’s partner was a charming 
woman, slightly older, who I vaguely imagined would be 
Haitian, since she seemed graciously at home here and 
chanced to have dark, wavy hair. She may smile when she 
reads this, for she turned out to be Mrs. John T. Myers, 
wife of the brigade commander of the United States Marine 
Corps, and she was there for no official or policy reason 
whatsoever. She w'as there because she enjoyed tennis, had 
numbers of Haitian friends, and found the Thursday after- 
noon parties in the palace gardens charming. And it seemed 
to me that the whole group-social-American attitude in 
Haiti was a piece of sheer craziness — Alice-in-Wonderland 
idiocy, without the mad logic which integrates Alice. So 
far as I could gather, no wife of a Marine Corps captain 
or major had ever attended or wanted to attend a “nigger 
gathering” socially, even at the presidential palace; and I 
think 99 per cent, of the sergeants’ and corporals’ wives 
would have turned up their noses in honest disgust if they’d 
been invited. To Judy O’Grady a coon was a coon and that 
was that, no matter if he’d been a king instead of a presi- 



dent, no matter if he’d been through three universities at 
Paris and spoke eleven languages instead of four and had 
sat as a member of a dozen Hague Tribunals. But to the 
colonel’s lady these were just charming people. She came 
and enjoyed herself. And to pile craziness on top of crazi- 
ness there was no more highly regarded woman in the lily- 
white American colony than this same colonel’s lady. If 
she had peculiar tastes, no one dared to criticize them. There 
were also, for instance, some dozens of naval officers on 
special permanent duty in Haiti, mostly doctors and en- 
gineers, and for perhaps accidental personal reasons a ma- 
jority of them were on friendly and in some cases intimate 
social terms with the Haitians. Their Marine Corps friends 
at the American club had nicknamed the naval officers 
“kinky-heads,” but there was always a discreet limit to such 
ragging. They ragged me before I left the island; they 
ragged Katie even more — she happens to come from Georgia 
and has a marked southern accent — for dancing with coal- | 
black gentlemen. “My God, what would your papa say?” 
whispered Mrs. Major Davis in horror when she drove into i 
our garden one night, after we had got a house, and found 
us at dinner with the Baussans. But she didn’t let that pre- 
vent her from having us to dinner at her own house three 
nights later. It seemed to me that very little of this trans- 
planted Jim Crow attitude was vicious. It seemed just a 
form of group insanity for which individuals perhaps 
should not be blamed. 

After we had finished our tennis game I was presently in- 
troduced by Haitian friends to an upstanding young Amer- 
ican in civilian clothes. His name was Perry. He was a 
pleasing, clean-cut, impudently debonair chap of the sort 
one would be likely to remember after a single meeting, but 
I couldn’t recall having met him previously, though in the 
course of weeks it seemed that I must have inevitably run 
into him, for the civilian American group in Port-au-Prince 
was small and highly gregarious. In friendly innocence I 



asked him if he was a newcomer. It seemed that this was 
the wrong thing to ask Mr. Perry. He replied sardonically 
that he was not. Later it was explained to me that Mr. 
Perry, who had been, I believe, an officer in the Marine 
Corps, had married a niece of President Borno, and had told 
the American colony individually and collectively that it 
could go to hell, before the surprised American colony had 
had the chance to invite him to do so. He had resigned from 
the corps, the club, etc., had been found a good job at which 
it was said he was efficient, had cast his lot with his wife’s 
people. Among his young ranking fellow officers he was 
generally regarded as a “low-down son of a bitch who had 
disgraced the service.” Among the higher-ups he was re- 
garded, without particular condemnation, as a peculiar 
phenomenon, who had gone out of their lives. “After all,” 
said Mrs. Deppler, “if he’d merely seduced the president’s 
niece we’d still be inviting him to our houses.” 

I quite realize that in writing about this social-racial 
tangle, which I seem to be doing on every other page, just 
as one encounters it at every other step in Port-au-Prince, 
I am piling up paradoxes, illogicalities, and non sequiturs. 
But I refuse to be blamed for the illogicality. The thing 
itself is essentially tangled, illogical, and insane. It would 
be the easiest thing in the world to choose selective facts on 
one side alone and present a consistent picture. But it 
wouldn’t be a true picture. 

Meantime the present fact remained that everybody, in- 
cluding some two or three hundred Haitians and some scat- 
tering dozens of Americans, were having a thoroughly good 
time at this Thursday afternoon garden party. 

The sun was slanting behind Morne Hopital, its rays still 
streaking the green lawn, when a bugle sounded. Tennis and 
general movement ceased. There was a buzz and hush. At 
the top of a marble staircase appeared a lone figure with a 
drawn sword, glittering and grand as the man who rides on 
the lion wagon in a circus parade. It was Lieutenant Berthol, 



American, commander of the palace guard. He had been a 
top sergeant of Marines (I suppose he still was), but he 
was wholly unrecognizable as such in his present glory. 
His uniform gleamed white, glittered with gold fourrageres^ 
braid, medals, bright-colored decorations. He stood, one 
lone man on the eminence of the wide white empty staircase, 
but no brass band blaring could have done him justice. It 
would have needed a steam calliope. Instead there was a 
brief moment of impressive silence, in which, with a cere- 
monial sweep of his drawn sword, he cried, “Ladies and 
gentlemen, the president !” 

Monsieur Borno appeared a moment later, casual but 
dignified, bareheaded, in a dark blue sack suit. Preceded at 
some ten paces by Lieutenant Berthol, he strolled down the 
staircase chatting with two members of his cabinet, one very 
black, the other mulatto. Some half dozen or more ministers, 
politicians, bureau functionaries, followed, talking in little 
groups. The crowd stood formal and quiet, the military men 
at attention, some of the young women curtsying during 
the president’s progress down the wide pleasance; but arriv- 
ing on the lawn near the tennis courts, all formality was 
dropped. He chatted right and left, signed the players to 
go on with their play. The whole garden was again ani- 
mated. A quarter of an hour later the scene became again 
somewhat formal as the crowd followed him in procession 
up the staircase into the palace. 

ITe huge reception hall held the two or three hundred 
of us without making a crush. Madame Borno, plump, mid- 
dle-aged, happy-faced, pale mulatto, rather pretty in a 
frock of pale brown georgette with pearls, sat beside a large 
tea table where a bevy of young mademoiselles poured tea 
for those who came and asked for it, and offered tiny sand- 
wiches, cakes, macaroons. Butlers and servants, liveried in 
English style, circulated everywhere with trays of cham- 
pagne. In a far corner there was a buffet, with, among other 
things, a decanter of twenty-year-old Haitian rum, which I 



tasted in tiny glasses with Ash Pay Davis and Freddie 

Perhaps a fourth of the guests were in their tennis clothes, 
disarrayed after hard playing, dumping their racquets in 
an anteroom. It lent an agreeable sophisticated informality 
to the occasion, as if all these people had gathered in pleas- 
ant surroundings primarily to enjoy themselves. 

It occurred to me as I was being presented to Madame 
Borno that the society of this small West Indian country, 
though certainly far behind us in civilization, if civiliza- 
tion is to be measured entirely by material-mechanical-in- 
dustrial standards, was perhaps a great deal more civilized 
in some ways than we are. At any rate, it often seemed to 
me that they lived more agreeably. 

I suppose it may have been because I happened at the 
moment to be thinking of Haitian culture in terms of 
French tradition — of the fact that Madame Borno herself 
was more than two-thirds French — that when presented, I 
bent over and kissed her hand as I might that of any im- 
portant matronly hostess in France. 

Instead, however, of accepting it thus casually — I dis- 
covered later she was one of the bluntest and wittiest women 
I had ever met — she said, “Eh^ voila! Monsieur V Atneri- 
cain! V ous avez appris ga pendant la guerre?'^ 

I ventured to tell her that since the war it was not un- 
customary to kiss ladies’ hands even in New York. “Tiens! 
tiens! C’est la pleine decadence alorsE She was laughing 
at me, and at my country, but it was friendly, amiable 

She told me that her young son, now in school at Paris, 
had been greatly impressed by things he had read and pic- 
tures he had seen of la rude vie d' outdoors and le sport in 
America. He had clipped a lot of pictures of Lionel Strong- 
fort from the advertising sections of magazines, and had 
announced that he was going to become a professional 
strong man. At another time he was going to be a cowboy. 



They had compromised by telling him that if he finally 
objected to becoming a lawyer like his father, they would 
send him to the Ecole Polytechnique and let him build 
bridges, and with this he was content after they had taken 
him to a cinema in which he could see with his own eyes 
that bridge-building engineers wore high boots and broad- 
brimmed hats and engaged in epic battles with villainous 
foremen, sometimes even with red Indians. Madame Emile 
Vital appeared, and the conversation became general. 
Among the tea-pouring demoiselles were one or two with 
whom I had danced at the Club Bellevue. I chatted with 
them for a moment, then wandered away from the table. 

I observed Monsieur Borno with four gentlemen of vari- 
ous colors, standing slightly aloof near a doorway. They 
were engaged in earnest conversation, which I supposed was 
political. It was. not my intention to approach them, but 
the president chanced to notice me on the edge of the crowd. 
One of the group was Granville Auguste, a very black and 
intensely serious little man connected with the ministry of 
finance, another the suave mulatto Fombrun, minister of 
the interior, to whom I took an immediate instinctive and 
cordially reciprocated dislike. The names of the others I 
do not recall, but they were ministers and bureau chiefs. 

Apparently, however, these gentlemen had other inter- 
ests than politics. They continued their conversation, which 
was an animated argument. It concerned the current tend- 
encies and future of Haitian poetry. The dispute involved, 
as they expressed it, la ?nuse hditienne d' expression fran- 
gaise^ versus la muse hditienne d' expression creole^ but it 
involved more than a matter of idiom. It was a question 
whether the genius of Haitian poetry might find its happiest 
medium in the rich creole du peuple, as the poets of the 
Midi reached their greatest heights in Provengale, or 
whether pure, academic French were the better vehicle. 
But actually, as they developed various antitheses, it in- 
volved the deeper question whether the Haitian poet should 



seek his inspiration in the classic French tradition or in 
African negro emotional tradition; likewise whether cypress 
trees, marble columns, and weeping-willows had any le- 
gitimate place in Haitian poetry, as against the actuality of 
tropical jungle which was Haiti itself. Monsieur Borno 
stressed the point that great poetry frequently had no locale, 
no geography other than the geography of the soul. There 
was nothing American, for instance, in Poe. He admitted 
at the same time that Oswald Durand, the one sheer genius 
Haiti had produced to date, had done his greatest work in 
creole and that his genius was essentially a negro genius. 
Granville Auguste was presently quoting something which 
began : 

Plus puissante, 0 Po'ete, est ton ceuvre ideate 

Car le dur mHal ou tu sculpies ta chimere . . . 

I asked him whom he was quoting. It seemed he was 
quoting a distinguished Haitian poet whose name was Louis 
Borno, there present, and who happened to be president of 
the Republic — a fact which was neither here nor there, 
apparently, in the literary dispute in which they were ab- 
sorbed. It seemed that Monsieur Borno was a poete tres 
serieux, no mere dilletante; numbers of his poems were 
included in the Antliologie de Poesie Uditienne published 
by Bossard in Paris, with a preface by M. Fortunat Strow- 
ski of the Sorbonne. . . . 

On my way home from the palace, I reflected how queer 
it would seem for a group of cabinet ministers and Treasury 
officials at the White House to be earnestly discussing the 
poetry of an American anthology which included meta- 
physical love-lyrics by Calvin Coolidge. 

Chapter V 


I HAVE seen many a triumphal arch, as who has not? in- 
cluding the papicr-77idche monstrosity under which our own 
returning heroes marched up Fifth Avenue, an imperial one 
on the road to Teheran in Persia strung with the bleeding 
carcasses of sheep, likewise the Arc de Triomphe at a mo- 
ment when banners and ten thousand gleaming bayonets 
passed beneath it in the Paris sunshine — but never have I 
seen any triumphal arch so extraordinary as that erected for 
Louis Borno, president of Haiti, at the entrance to a name- 
less village of som*e half dozen tiny huts in the Valley of 
Plaisance, deep in the jungle interior of this black Pvepublic. 

The four-day presidential motor trip on which I had 
been included as a guest was primarily for the dedication 
of a new bridge across the Limbe River in the mountains of 
the north, but its real significance lay in the fact that for 
almost the first time in Haitian history, a president, without 
fear and without elaborate military ostentation, could visit 
the most remote and formerly most dangerous districts in 
the interior of his republic without fear of revolution, as- 
sassination, or uprising. 

This may have been entirely, as his enemies said, because 
our own armed Marine Corps remained in Haiti, sitting on 
the lid. Perhaps the doves of peace were really the Ameri- 
can airplanes nesting among machine guns, but at any rate 
the journey had been more like a prolonged picnic party 
than anything connected with traditional Latin American 
politics. There were neither opera bouffe troops of the Rich- 
ard Harding Davis tradition, nor businesslike Marines — 



only such personal military aides as might accompany an 
American president on a motor tour from Washington to 
New York, The only munition truck that followed our con- 
voy was loaded with provision of cold turkey and beer. 

We left Port-au-Prince at dawn of a Saturday in seven 
touring-cars. The first contained President and Mme. Louis 
Borno. In the second car rode Brigadier-General John H. 
Russell, with Mrs. Russell and Mrs, Frederick H. Cooke, 
wife of the chief engineer of public works. In subsequent 
cars were American treaty officials and members of the 
Haitian cabinet. 

Port-au-Prince, which we were leaving, rejoices in more 
daily newspapers than New York before Munsey, and more 
cynics than Athens in the time of Diogenes. 

Free speech and freedom of the press flourish with tropi- 
cal luxuriousness, despite occasional jailings. When it was 
learned that I had been invited on the presidential tour, 
both cynics and the Opposition press urged me not to let 
myself be deluded by what I was to see. 

I was assured all over again that the whole American 
occupation was for sinister and selfish ends, that all present 
improvements were but part of a big program of subse- 
quent industrial exploitation, that President Borno was 
merely a puppet in the hands of greedy Wall Street. 

I was equally assured that if it weren’t for the gen- 
darmerie and the airplanes, the President would not dare 
set foot outside his palace. 

I was informed that the mass peasantry in the interior 
cared nothing, benefited nothing, knew nothing of President 
Borno, in fact had probably never heard his name (which 
I knew to be true in many remote mountain districts) ; and 
that any patriotic demonstrations I saw along the road 
would be stage set, claque. 

As a matter of fact a superb claque which would have 
done credit to the late Hammerstein was the first high spot 
we encountered, two hours out of Port-au-Prince on the road 



to Saint Marc — a triumphal arch of palm branches sur- 
mounted by a big red banner on which was written Vive son 
'Excellence President Borno. All the paid road workers of 
the vicinity, with their wives, grandparents, babies, and 
wenches, were lined up on the roadside to shout Vive le 
President r as per instructions. That, at any rate, was just 
as the cynics had predicted. And this, of course, was not the 
arch which stands out so significantly in my recollection. 

Before we came to that other arch I saw many things 
which were also worth remembering — ^more than a thou- 
sand miles of well-built motor roads where rough trails had 
existed only ten short years ago, big span bridges and in- 
numerable solid culverts, well-equipped hospitals, rural 
dispensaries crowded with peasants, dozens of new school 
buildings both industrial and elementary — efficient native 
gendarmerie stations and rural constabulary — malarial 
swamps drained. And against all this improvement which 
had been paid for out of the public revenues, Dr. Cumber- 
land, treaty financial adviser, in whose car I rode during 
part of the trip, showed me figures according to which the 
public Haitian national debt had been decreased from 
$30,000,000 to $21,000,000. 

But not any of this impressed me so much as the arch we 
saw in the mountain interior on that second day. It was 
above the clouds and palm trees, on the edge of a high 
gorge overlooking the Plaisance Valley. One family group 
of barefoot peasants, with their tiny clustered mud houses 
clinging to the slope, had built it. They had built it rudely 
of bamboo stocks and banana leaves, rickety, a bit pathetic, 
and so low that our cars could scarcely pass under it. 

But hanging on it to do honor to their president and pro- 
claim their own prosperity and pride were the cherished 
and significant possessions of that little family group — a 
bright new tin coffee pot, a freshly laundered coat and 
trousers of white cotton, a pair of “store bought” shoes (the 
ultimate symbol in Haiti of humble prosperity), a gayly 


colored skirt, a small drum, and a brightly scoured iron 

“See how prosperous and grateful we are !” cried the arch 
in a symbol language brought by their slave forebears from 
Africa, which had existed before written speech. Vzve Presi- 
dent!” cried little black brats bursting with excitement. 
“Vive Nord Alexis!” cried an ancient crone. President Nord 
Alexis had been dead for a generation, but because his image 
still appears on current Haitian coins, many peasants of the 
interior believe that he still rules, helped now by the blancs. 
But if some of the old crones and graybeards didn’t know 
whether the president they were cheering was named Louis 
Borno or Nord Alexis, they seemed convinced that he was 
their friend, and that the blancs who rode with him were 
also their friends. And they seemed convinced that there 
was a definite connection, however vague, between this new 
regime in which the blancs figured and the fact that they 
had a new coffee pot. 

I wanted to get out and talk to the family, but we could 
stop only for a moment at this arch, to me so memorable. 
Next day, however, I was able to talk with a peasant of the 
same sort on a tiny farm near Hinche, in the great central 
plain behind the mountains, and near the new high road. 
The old black man with whom I talked wore blue overalls 
and fiber sandals. He could neither read nor write. He was 
like three million other peasants, men, women, children, 
except, I think, that his intelligence topped the average. 
It seemed to me that he might be speaking, and speaking 
truly, for a majority of them all — saying what they might 
have said if they could have been as articulate as he. He 

“Ten years ago this country was full of cacos (bandits) 
and there were no roads. The cacos often robbed and mur- 
dered us. Our own government tax-gatherers often robbed 
and starved us, then gave us nothing in return. It was hardly 
worth while to plant. It took four days on a bourriq^ue (don- 



key) to go down to the city. And if we weren’t killed by 
cacos or drowned fording streams, when we did reach the 
city we were conscripted to fight for the government, or on 
one side or the other of some new revolution which was 
going to make things better and never did. Now the bandits 
are all gone, there is no more revolution, I live in peace, I 
plant all I can, I pay a reasonable tax, I go to the city in the 
motor bus in four hours, and I am not conscripted, and 
while I am away, my wife, my children, my ears of corn, 
and my little goats are safe as if they were all in the arms 
of Jesus. . . .” 

It seems perhaps a pity not to end this chapter here, but 
something forces me to recall the words of another gray- 
bearded Haitian, also the father of a family — a family 
which lived in an ancestral villa on Turgeau, a beautiful 
suburb of Port-au-Prince, with a small secluded public 
garden, great shade trees, singing birds, springs and foun- 
tains. Many Americans also now live there. He said: 

“From my own tiniest childhood and in my father’s child- 
hood this little secluded garden, public, yet not quite pub- 
lic, has been a place of sacredness and beauty, woven into 
all our childhood recollections — our own garden, in which 
to romp and play or lie beneath the trees and dream. Now 
my little grandson goes no more into that garden. The little 
American children by the fountain cried, ‘Oh, look, see the 
little nigger all dressed up like a monkey!’ 

“It took us older ones longer than you would think to 
understand this thing that the Americans have brought. 
For us, ‘Negro’ was a word like ‘Aryan,’ ‘Nordic,’ ‘Latin,’ 
which connotated differences, not shamefulness. ‘Haitian’ 
was a national adjective like Scandinavian, Swiss, English. 
Around such adjectives cluster patriotic traditions and pa- 
triotic prides. Now our children are ashamed to be Negro, 
ashamed to be Haitian. Some of us older ones, too. It seems 
to me that we are being poisoned. I am told that the Ameri- 
cans have brought to our country prosperity, peace, security, 



material improvement. Be it so. Can those things compen- 
sate for the destruction of our pride, the poisoning of our 
souls? . . 

The truth is at best a tangled thing. 

The old peasant in overalls was speaking, I think, for 
three million peasants who are untouched, unharmed by 
such social-racial concerns, and who are either construc- 
tively helped, or, in their mountain-isolated groups, remain 
unaffected either for good or bad, by the American political- 
economic, innovations. Furthermore, the Americans no 
longer persecute actively or seek to stamp out the myste- 
rious, immemorial religious tradition which is the real soul 
of this black peasantry. 

The old gentleman on Turgeau was speaking, I think, 
for a small upper class and bourgeois minority of less than 
one hundred and fifty thousand, many of whom had op- 
pressed and robbed these same three million peasants before 
the Americans came. 

What conclusion emerges from these tangled part-truths? 
How weigh them? By some evaluations of life, perhaps, 
the scales tip in one direction, but by a different evaluation 
of life they upset in a reverse direction. I am not sure of 
ultimate evaluations where problems of this sort are in- 
volved. With Louis and Maman Celie, it was different. 
Concerning them I have the strength of a profound convic- 
tion. But here I think that I, if I am anything, am the on- 
looker, the reporter — not the solver, surely not the judge. 
But perhaps others capable of judging (or who deem them- 
selves so) may find in these faithfully recorded observations 
material for thought. 

¥art Four: 


:» I J 

Chapter I 


To hold undisputed sway on some remote tropical island 
set like a green jewel amid the coral reefs of summer seas 
— how many boys have dreamed it, and how many grown 
men, civilization-tired. 

It is a strangely potent dream ; it has a druglike fascina- 
tion. It is susceptible of infinite variations. Sometimes the 
island proves to be inhabited by natives — sometimes not. 
One man may dream of it in terms of pure adventure — an- 
other in terms of refuge, tranquillity, escape — another in 
terms of despotic power. 

It is a dream which for most of us never comes true. 

But in Haiti, where the impossible frequently happens — 
or rather on one of its island dependencies — there is a man, 
a white man, who has realized that dream, on his own 
terms. Furthermore, he has been actually and literally 
crowned a king by the natives of that island. 

This is not a fantasy. 

On clear days, from any terrace in Port-au-Prince, one 
may see the blue mountain peaks of an island rising from 
the sea out yonder across the bay northwestward, thirty or 
more miles distant. It is called La Gonave. It is an island 
larger than Martinique or Barbados, dolphin-shaped, some 
forty miles in length. Despite its proximity to the Haitian 
mainland and capital, despite the fact that under the 
Haitian-American treaty of 1915 it is part of the territory 
over which we exercise a benevolent protectorate, it re- 
mains the most primitive and untouched by civilization in 
the whole West Indies. It has always been so. It is the only 

part of Haiti on which there were no colonial settlements 




and on which there are no French colonial ruins. In the pre- 
colonial Spanish days it was a resort for pirates. When 
Haiti was owned by France, it was a refuge for runaway 
slaves. For the past century, under the Haitian black Re- 
public, the government tried sporadically and with slight 
success to collect taxes from the descendants of these run- 
away slaves. 

A number of years ago, at his own request, the American 
administration dropped from an airplane on to this island 
a Pennsylvania farmer boy by the name of Wirkus, who 
had enlisted in the Marine Corps and risen to be a top 
sergeant. They commissioned him a lieutenant of gen- 
darmerie and said, “We’ll send a plane over every month 
to see how you are getting along.” They said also, “In six 
months, of course, we’ll relieve you.” This boy Wirkus who 
had never set foot on La Gonave, who had only seen it 
lying distant and mysterious out there across the sea, said, 
“If you won’t let me stay there for at least three years, I 
don’t want to go.” It was a queer thing for him to say. They 
thought it was a queer thing for him to say, but they flew 
him over and left him. They sent the airplane monthly for 
his reports, and whenever he cared to, they let him fly back, 
to spend a monthly week-end in Port-au-Prince. Usually 
he didn’t care to leave his island. Two or three months later 
a rumor spread around the capital that the ten thousand 
blacks of the island had convened and crowned Wirkus 
king of La Gonave. It was supposed to be a sort of harmless 
joke. Nobody on the mainland took it seriously. And Wir- 
kus himself laughed about it in an embarrassed way when 
they saw him. He was a husky, efficient, dependable lieu- 
tenant of gendarmerie, his reports were always in perfect 
order, and tax collections on La Gonave had already more 
than doubled under his administration. If the blacks out 
there childishly chose to call him a king instead of a lieu- 
tenant, what did his superior officers care about that? He 
was a good man, doing a good job. 



And he has been there ever since. He is there today, the 
sole white ruler, the benevolent despot of an island inhab- 
ited by ten thousand blacks. He will be there, he hopes, for 
another three years. I had a letter from him only a few 
weeks ago. He is real and his name is Wirkus. If it would 
amuse you to get a letter from a king, you can write him: 

Lieutenant F. E. Wirkus, 

Gendarmerie d’Haiti, 

Headquarters General, 

Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 

(Please forward to La Gonave.) 

They will take it over to him when the plane goes, on 
the first of the month, and I have no doubt he will find 
time to answer. 

These are the simple understandable facts, as known to 
everybody in Haiti, of how Wirkus happens to be king of 
La Gonave. It chances, however, that I am in possession of 
some other facts, literal, yet so fantastic in their implica- 
tion that I hesitate to relate them. Astrologers, numerol- 
ogists, dabblers in the occult, orthodox fatalist Presby- 
terians, will be more interested in this phase of the story, 
than will sensible readers. I feel, however, that it should be 
included, if only to show what mysterious tricks coincidence 
will sometimes play in the birth of incredible legends, in 
the creation by primitive peoples of kings and gods. 

In the year 1848, after Haiti had been for thirty years 
a republic, a negro named Soulouque rose to power. He 
declared that the Holy Virgin had appeared to him in a 
vision, angel-winged, perched in the top of a royal palm, 
and had said : 

“You are destined to become a king, to rule over Haiti, 
Santo Domingo, and the surrounding islands of the sea.” 

Some months later, Soulouque, amid great pomp and 
ceremony, invested with scepter, crown, and royal robes, 
was proclaimed Emperor of Haiti, under the title of 



Faustin I. Why he chose the unusual name of Faustin, his- 
tory does not explain. With his royal armies he sought to 
invade Santo Domingo. This was exactly eighty years ago. 
In Bois Noir, among the mountains of La Gonave, there is 
an old, blind soothsayer, believed by his neighbors to be 
more than a hundred years old. They say that long, long 
ago he lived on the mainland, and that he saw the emperor 
Faustin ride off to war on a white horse, and that he always 
predicted Faustin would some day miraculously return. 
You can read about this Faustin I in the encyclopaedias, 
and if you ever visit Port-au-Prince you can see his jeweled 
crown and scepter in the vaults of the Banque Nationale. 
So much for the black Faustin I. 

In 1894, in the town of Pittston, Pennsylvania, in the 
coal mining and farm district near Wilkes-Barre, a baby 
was born. The father was a German-American who had 
been a miner and also farmed. The mother, Anna Wirkus, 
was of Polish-French stock, and a Catholic. When the priest 
came to baptize this baby, he said to Mrs. Anna Wirkus, 
“What name have you chosen?” and she said, “We cannot 
agree ; we are going to let you choose the name.” 

He baptized the baby “Faustin.” 

Wirkus tells me that up until the time he was twenty, 
and even after he had run away to enlist in the Marine 
Corps, Haiti meant nothing to him except a vague name 
in the geographies which he had studied in public school. 
He had not the slightest intention or desire to go to Haiti. 
He just happened to be sent there. He might just as likely 
have been sent to China or the Philippines, or to have been 
stationed in Philadelphia. 

Only one thing remains to be added to this digression be- 
fore I bring this story of Wirkus and his island back to 
solid earth again: 

The blacks of that island, when speaking of Wirkus, 
sometimes refer to him as Li te pe vini (he who was to 
come) . 



There was no mystical nonsense about Wirkus himself. 
If he seemed God-sent to his superstitious blacks, born and 
destined at baptism to rule over them, and if his hard-boiled 
fellow Marines considered it somewhat strange that a “reg- 
ular guy” like Wirkus should be content to remain for years 
at such a lonely post, I am sure that he never thought of 
himself as being in any way out of the ordinary. Yet he 
was out of the ordinary, in more ways than one. I learned 
this before I ever met him. It so happened that I had been in 
Haiti several months before I heard of Wirkus. Then one 
of the treaty officials told me about him, suggesting that 
since I was studying primitive peasant life, his island would 
be a good place for me to visit. He was sure I’d be welcome, 
but when he saw how interested I was, he took the trouble 
to have a message sent over. Wirkus sent back word that I 
could come any time I pleased, stay a week or a month as 
it suited me. 

On the night before starting I sat in De Reix’s bar with 
Major Davis, Q. M. C., and Captain Pressley of the flying 
corps, discussing the trip, over a bottle of Haitian rum. 
They knew Wirkus — had fished with him for barracuda. 
I was asking what I might take along that would please 

“Well,” said Major Davis ponderously, “you might take 
him a big box of candy ... he likes chocolates and bon- 
bons best.” 

“Is that your poor idea of a joke?” I said. “I thought 
you told me Wirkus was a hard-boiled sergeant of Marines.” 

“No,” said the major, “I’m not razzing you. He’s hard- 
boiled all right. Look at his jaw. He can outcurse and out- 
fight any tough baby I know in the whole service. But he 
doesn’t drink . . . come to think of it, I don’t believe he 
smokes either . . . and he eats quite a lot of sweet stuff. 
They tell me alcohol turns to sugar, and I suppose when a 
fellow doesn’t drink he needs more sweets. I might just as 
well have told you to take him jam. We always take him 



something of the sort, but I happen to know he’s got a 
whole shelf of it. . . 

“Don’t get off on the wrong foot with Wirkus,” Captain 
Pressley cut in — “this stuff about his not drinking and 
smoking. He’s no Sunday school product by a damned sight. 
He just happens not to care anything about liquor, and 
where he is it’s a good thing he’s that way . . . out there 
on an island full of rum and nigger wenches and lazy cocoa- 
nut groves, he’s stayed as hard as nails. He’s built himself a 
rifle range where he practices all by himself . . . rides, 
hunts, fishes when he’s not working. He shaves every morn- 
ing . . . he’s fixed himself a shower better than we’ve got 
at the club. A rum-hound or a lazy guy would go crazy out 
there, but it suits him, and it seems to suit the natives. He’s 
helped them in a lot of ways they were never helped before, 
and they think he’s God Almighty. You’ve heard, I guess, 
that they crowned him king or something. That’s a hot 

Next morning it was this same Captain Pressley who flew 
me out high across the bay toward the smoky-blue moun- 
tains of La Gonave, which turned vivid green as we ap- 
proached. We soared down to land on a saline flat near the 
shore. As we taxied across it four or five cows loped out 
from the mangrove tangle, with negroes screaming, running, 
trying to head them, and Pressley had to swerve sharply, 
dangerously, to avoid a smash. 

As we came safely to a stop and were climbing out, push- 
ing up our goggles and loosening our helmets, disengaging 
ourselves from the parachutes strapped on our backs, 
Wirkus came striding across the saline toward us. It was 
seven-thirty in the morning, and he was bareheaded. This 
was the first time I had ever seen him. He was wearing 
grease-smeared khaki overalls, his hands were black with 
oil and grease, and there were streaks of it on his bare sun- 
burnt arms. But his hair was so straw-blond, his eyes so clear 
gray-blue, his smooth-shaven face so healthy-ruddy-bronzed, 



that he looked clean. You could almost smell bath-soap as 
you looked at him. He was a shade under six feet tall and 
built like a light heavyweight in training. His jaw was as 
square as a piece of granite, and he was scowling. He didn’t 
look at us as we came up. He was looking at the wing of 
the plane, which had tilted and dragged as we swerved, to 
see if it had been injured. Then he came and shook hands. 
Pressley had shut off the roaring engine. 

Some thirty feet away from us stood four negro 
gendarmes in uniform, with a handsome mulatto sergeant. 
They were whispering together and seemed to be pained 
about something. As Wirkus strode over toward them they 
snapped smartly to salute, then hung their heads sheepishly. 

“Listen,” said Pressley, “this is going to be good. They 
have had strict orders to allow no cows within a mile of 
this landing-field. We’ve had trouble before.” 

Wirkus addressed himself slowly, grimly, in level tones, 
to the sergeant alone: 

“Ou meme responsah' zaffai’ Icl^ (You are to blame for 
that business). 

‘‘Oui, mon lieutenant^' moaned the sergeant, like a child 
found at fault, not daring to deny it, and Wirkus, who 
spoke creole with an appalling colloquial fluency, continued 
in his same level tones : 

“Oz^ fait godda7n niacacq^ ou vi godda7ti 7nacacg^ ou 
7nourri goddam 77iacacq; ou p'r alter joiend' rade macacg 
cinq jou' ” (literally: You made [were born] goddamned 
monkey, you live goddamned monkey, you will die god- 
damned monkey; so go join monkey-clothes [prisoner- 
stripes] five days). 

“Ozzz, mon lieutenant^' moaned the sergeant, and 
marched sadly away to put himself under arrest, and take 
off his handsome uniform, and tote rock for five days bare- 
footed in black-and-white striped monkey-clothes. 

As he walked' away, Wirkus called after him, still in 
creole : 



“I’m not going to break you, Albert; tell Corporal De- 
joie to take over your work for the five days.” 

“Merci, e77ipile, lieutenant!' And that was that. Wirkus 
felt better. He had tempered justice with mercy. He 
grinned. Some prisoners appeared, piled my gear on their 
heads, and disappeared single file up a trail through the 
mangroves, Wirkus asked Pressley to stay over and fish. 
He had been tinkering on his old one-cylinder motor boat 
and had it hitting. But Pressley had to go back. 

Wirkus led me up the path through the mangroves to a 
straw-roofed village overlooking the sea and affording a 
fine view of the towering mountains of the Haitian main- 
land over yonder. It was Anse-a-Galets, the capital of his 
island kingdom. The only buildings not made of mud and 
straw were his own house, which was a stone-concrete bunga- 
low with a big screened porch, and the gendarmerie head- 
quarters, over which the Haitian flag flew. It looked like a 
Kiplingesque outpost on the edge of the jungle, which was 
what it was. 

He was comfortably installed. He had some furniture 
from the States, a plain Grand Rapids dining-room table 
and two iron cots in separate rooms, Haitian withe-bottom 
straight chairs and rockers, a cupboard and shelves piled 
with tinned goods, a rack of earthen water-jugs, a ward- 
robe closet in his bedroom with books piled on top of it, a 
washstand with enamel bowl and pitcher, clean white bath 
towels. On wall-racks in the main room were a shotgun, 
saddle bags, tarpon rods, and tackle. A gasoline pressure- 
lamp hung from the ceiling. In the bedrooms there were 
candles. The floor was clean-swept concrete. It seemed a 
pleasant place. He had a servant, a boy named Mauvais, 
who kept things in order, and cooked in a detached kitchen. 
The shower was in the back yard, a big barrel mounted on 
poles, surrounded by a screen of woven branches. A ladder 
went up to the barrel. 

From the beginning, Wirkus was hospitable. The feel 



of him was friendly. But he was self-contained. He didn’t 
waste words. He was evidently not the sort of man who 
talked a great deal or gave confidences on first acquaintance. 
He was waiting, I suppose, to get the feel of what sort of 
animal I might essentially be inside. 

He opened slowly. I think he was somewhat relieved 
that I was not a highbrow. When he found that I could 
speak creole, that I had been a good deal in the mountains 
on the mainland, that I liked to fish and wear old clothes, 

I could feel that he was beginning to feel it would probably 
be all right. These things sound like nothing at all, but when 
two men who have never seen each other are going to live 
together intimately marooned for weeks, such things take 
on an importance. 

I didn’t mention the king business. He could tell me 
about that, if he would, in his own good time. We fished 
the first afternoon and killed six barracuda. I had never 
fished for barracuda, but it was the same thing more or less 
as fishing for tarpon, the tackle was the same; but once 
gaffed and in the boat, you had to look out for their wolfish 
teeth, which could take off a hand at the wrist and had been 
known to do it. Wirkus and I began slowly to get better 
acquainted. I asked him about the boat, which was old, but 
twenty feet long and seaworthy. I asked him if he ever 
went to Port-au-Prince in it, and what sort of boats the 
natives of the island had. I had got the impression that his 
only connecting link with the mainland was by plane. That 
was a matter of convenience, he said. It was forty-two miles 
from Anse-a-Galets to Port-au-Prince. The planes made 
it in less than half an hour. It took him between eight and 
nine hours to do it in his boat; so he made the boat trip 
only once or twice a year to have it overhauled. The natives 
had lots of boats, crude sailboats, in which they fished and 
occasionally went over to the mainland, but when the winds 
were wrong it sometimes meant three or four days for the 
round trip. The gendarmerie had given him his motor boat 



so that he could make monthly inspections, circumnavigat- 
ing his island, of his six tiny gendarme stations in its prin- 
cipal coast villages. He would take me along on one of the 
trips, he said, if I cared to go, but this coming Saturday he 
thought I might see more, and enjoy it more, if we took a 
horseback ride up into the hills. 

The rapid change in landscape was astonishing. Anse was 
sun-baked, yellow with its mud walls and straw roofs, 
rather barren. But not five hundred yards behind the vil- 
lage our trail led beside a stream, into a little green narrow 
valley that was a paradise, tropical trees, ferns, and flowers, 
bright-colored birds flitting. Where the stream widened to 
a shallow basin we came upon a group of girls and women, 
some naked, some in loin cloths, the streaked sunlight play- 
ing through the palm branches on their black, smooth, shiny 
skins. They were washing clothes, beating them with 
wooden paddles, singing, and cried out friendly greeting 
as we passed. 

Donkey trains with big panniers occasionally passed us. 
The women with them, some riding, some afoot, wore cotton 
dresses; the men and boys, faded blue jeans. All, both men 
and women, saluted Wirkus respectfully, yet familiarly, as 
if he were a sort of intimately known superior being. He 
called many by name, and of some who had come far he in- 
quired about their families, about their crops. A number of 
times I heard him use the phrase, “D 2 S 7Jioon bon jou' pV 
moms'" (Tell your people good-day for me). 

A little higher up in the valley we came to the ruins of 
a primitive water-mill which had been destroyed by a 
freshet. In the clearing just up the hillside stood a new 
building, with cows grazing, poinsettias flaming at the 
fence-gate, other signs of prosperity. An old woman in 
white, with a white bandanna, barefoot, gold hoop earrings, 
and a red coral necklace, who had been sitting in the door- 
way, spied us. She leaped up. She must have been past 
seventy, but she was agile as a goat. She called out to us, 



came hurrying down to the path, seized Wirkus* hand, 
covered it with kisses, tried to drag him from his horse, and 
failing in this, began tugging at the reins. 

Wirkus was embarrassed, particularly about the hand- 
kissing. “I guess we’ll have to stop for five minutes,” he 
said. So we dismounted and followed the old woman to the 
house. It was another home-made mill, primitive as the one 
below, except that it was driven by a shiny little gasoline 
engine of American make. The old woman gave us coffee 
and lamented that Jules Narcisse, apparently her son, had 
missed our visit. When we left, she tried to kiss Wirkus’ 
hand again. 

“Are they all like that toward you?” I asked him. 

“No, no,” said Wirkus, annoyed. “I gave her son a little 
help once, and she can’t seem to forget it. She’s getting 

It was from the son, Jules Narcisse, on a subsequent oc- 
casion and Wirkus not present, that I learned the story of 
the two mills. 

Three times, in three successive rainy seasons, torrents 
had wrecked the mill below, and he was prepared to give 
up when Wirkus advised him to borrow money, bring an 
engine over from the mainland, and put his mill up on the 
hillside. Narcisse had a brother who believed himself to be 
a mason and who professed complete ability to “set” the 
engine. But he built the concrete base out of true, and the 
belt kept flying off. So they went in despair to Wirkus, 
wailing that the American engine was no good. 

And Wirkus went up to take a look. “It was terrifiant. 
Monsieur,” Narcisse told me, “it was terrifiant what the 
lieutenant said and did. My brother and I fled from his 
curses and observed him from the door. He seized a crow- 
bar and we thought he would destroy the engine, but he 
smashed only its base, and then he went away, telling us 
nothing, heaping on our heads awful curses. But, Monsieur, 
he returned ! On that selfsame day he returned. And he had 
taken off his uniform as when he works upon the boat. Be- 

i 82 


hind him came men bearing new bags of cement on their 
heads. And in his hand there were tools, a trowel. And, 
Monsieur, with his own hands he set that engine true, as you 
behold it now.” 

These details I learned later, but on the trail that morn- 
ing I suspected that something of the sort was behind the 
old woman’s gratitude, for other illuminating episodes oc- 

After climbing slowly upward, partly through rising 
jungles and partly along rocky mountain slopes, to an alti- 
tude of nearly three thousand feet, we crossed over a range 
and found ourselves on a wide fertile central plateau, called 
the Plaine Mapou, with a higher range rising beyond it. 
It was covered with “gardens” (small farms) and habita- 
tions. Across this plain, then turning northward, following 
its length, we galloped.^ 

^ Extraordinary as it may seem, no accurate map of the interior of this 
island has ever been published. None exists or ever has existed except 
the crude maps made by Wirkus. All the old Spanish maps, and all the 
French maps, old and modern, show its location and coastline with ad- 
mirable accuracy, and some of them show its principal coast villages. But 
the interior appears mountainous, uninhabited, untrailed, its mountains rising 
to a central backbone range. The fact that there are two parallel ranges 
instead of one, with this fertile high plateau between them, is neglected by 
the professional cartographers. On French maps around 1850, in the north- 
western interior of the island, the name of a town or village, Dandcville, 
begins to appear. The part of the island where that town is placed on the 
maps is a barren, absolutely waterless, thorny desert. No village or habita- 
tion has ever existed there within the memory or tradition of the islanders. 
No village named Dandeville within their memory or tradition has ever 
existed anywhere. It is as if some whimsical old map-maker, tired of seeing 
La Gonave blank, had inserted it gratuitously. There are villages in the 
interior of the island, but Dandeville seems to have been a myth. Concern- 
ing water, the geological textbooks on Haiti copy each other, including a 
recent American one, in asserting that there are only three or four practical 
springs on the island, and that it has no stream which empties into the sea. 
Wirkus has listed twenty-six clear-flowing and abundant springs, eighteen 
of which he eventually showed me, and the very stream up which we had 
come from Anse empties into the sea at Magazin. The maps made during 
the last ten years by the American-administered Travaux Publiques are 
coastally correct for La Gonave, but show most of its interior as still 
terra incognita. 



At some of the little farms on the Plaine Mapou we 
stopped, or rather were stopped. One man insisted on show- 
ing Wirkus some baby pigs. I got that tale also later. 
Wirkus had found scrawny runted razorbacks on the island. 
He had persuaded the American agricultural station at 
Jacmel to give him a blooded boar and brood-sow. He had 
presented them as a gift to a certain dependable gros negre 
in the mountains, with the understanding that the gros negre 
must in turn give away all the first litter; after that the 
pair and its further progeny belonged to the owner. Each 
person who got one of the litter must in turn cross it with 
the razorbacks, and give away all of that first brood. So by 
now, without expense or exchange of money, this new blood 
was scattering all over the island and everybody benefiting. 
At another place we stopped, it was the same story over 
again, this time about melons. Three-fourths of the seeds 
of the first crop had to be given away. You could give them 
to your brother or cousins if you wanted to, but you had 
to give them away. There is much to be said for despotism 
as a form of government. Wirkus was tyrannical. I began 
to understand why these peasants looked up to him as a sort 
of God Almighty. 

It was in the Plaine Mapou that we turned aside to see 
a certain gros negre, a rich, swaggering peasant named 
Alliance Laurent, who, Wirkus had learned, was infringing 
on the land of neighbors. With many wives and concubines, 
he strutted like a proud rooster surrounded by his hens. 

Wirkus smiled like a benevolent crocodile on Laurent, 
took his outstretched hand, fired a string of compliments 
among his women, and began congratulating Laurent on his 
handsome breeches and boots. 

“You know, Laurent,” he said, “why it gives me such 
pleasure to see you in fine health and fine garments?” 

Laurent gaped. 

“Because it will add to the joy of the girls and women 
at Anse-a-Galets when they see you marching barefoot in 



monkey-clothes (stripes), carrying water all day long on 
your head for my shower bath.” 

Not a word had been spoken about the infringement of 
land-rights, but we weren’t a mile along the trail when a 
terrified and humble Laurent came galloping after us, 
promising to restore all he had taken. 

We saw a woman Wirkus had sent over to the mainland 
for a double cataract operation. She hadn’t wanted to go. 
She had been afraid. He made her go. He made a boatman 
down at Pointe-a-Racquette take her. She had come back 
seeing. She thought he was God Almighty. 

And so it went. As we galloped back down to Anse, it was 
getting plainer and plainer why they feared and admired 
him. But I was beginning to wonder about the king busi- 
ness. Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I asked 
him about it, what there was to it, whether it was true. He 
seemed embarrassed again. He said, well, yes, there was 
something to it; one of these days he’d tell me all about it, 
and since I seemed to be interested in the island we’d make 
another trip up soon, up to the top of Bois Noir, and see 
the black queen. 

This was the first I’d heard of a black queen. I don’t 
think Wirkus realized how startling it sounded. 

Chapter II 


The night before our projected journey up to Bois Noir to 
visit the black queen, Ti Meminne, Wirkus told me the 
story of how he had been crowned king of La Gonave. 

Coming to the island four years before, he had set about 
a thorough exploration of its interior. From peasants who 
came down to the coast, he had heard that in Bois Noir, in 
a forest on a mountain top, in the almost exact geographical 
center of the island, there dwelt an old black woman who 
had ruled for more than thirty years. In her compound, they 
said, was a drum “taller than a man,” so that the drummers 
had to stand on a raised platform to boom out the signals 
for the convocations of her court. She had prime ministers, 
they told him, a cabinet, and an army. 

He hadn’t quite believed it, he said, but he had gone up, 
alone, unarmed, and friendly I gathered, to see what it 
was all about. The old woman had proudly welcomed him 
and set the drum booming. In an hour or two, processions of 
negroes, men and women, blowing conch-shells, beating 
work-drums, waving flags, armed with machetes, began ar- 
riving, until there were several hundred in her compound. 
She introduced him to an old man who was 7nimstre Vin- 
tmeur, others who were 7ninistre V agriculture, 77imistre la 
guerreP etc. Wirkus remained there. He spent almost the 
entire first day in conference with them. They talked and 
talked and talked. Also they sent for the old blind sooth- 

What they really had, he discovered, was a sort of agri- 
cultural guild, primitive yet highly organized. In planting- 




times and harvest, in times for clearing new ground, they 
went about in little armies, fifty or a hundred to a group, 
and did the work communistically. They had been organized 
that way “forever” back in the mountains, one of the old 
men told him. And the queen with her council and court 
preserved order among them, settled disputes, dispensed 
justice. It seemed to me as he told it that he was describing 
a sort of primitive monarchical communism. The present 
queen, Ti Meminne, had ruled for a generation. Before her 
there had been a queen called La Reine Tirhazard, who 
had reigned from time immemorial. The more Wirkus lis- 
tened to this, he told me, the more he liked it. It “sounded 
good to him,” he said. “Why bust it up? Let it ride awhile 
and see how it worked out.” So he made a speech to the 
assembly. He told them he had been sent over “with author- 
ity” from the mainland, and confirmed the queen Ti 
Meminne in power. As for his part, he would stay on the 
island to supervise everything and help them. When Ti 
Meminne needed advice, he told her, let her send a mes- 
senger down to Anse-a-Galets, and he would ride up for 
conference. He didn’t know how it was going to work out, 
but he thought he’d give it a trial. 

Well, a week later they had sent for him, and when he 
arrived they waved flags over his head — it seems the old 
soothsayer had been meanwhile consulted — strewed flowers 
and palm branches in his path, put a big yellow silk ban- 
danna over his shoulders, set him in a chair, and carried him 
round and round in a circle, singing, and knelt before him, 
and laid machetes upon his shoulders, “a lot of stuff like 
that,” he said, and crowned him King of La Gonave. 

Lie had seen a certain humorous element in it naturally 
— he grinned as he told me the details — but they took it, he 
said, “damned seriously.” 

Just how seriously they took it he hadn’t realized until 
some weeks later, when he had started building a stone 
wharf at Anse; it was in January, and he had estimated 



that with a dozen men working steadily he ought to get it 
finished by May. One morning, he said, he was awakened by 
an ungodly noise, and into Anse poured the Queen Ti 
Meminne’s army, down from the mountains, five hundred 
of them, beating their drums, blowing their conch-shells, 
howling, followed by their women, donkeys laden with 
great panniers of food and iron cook-pots. Flags were 
planted in the clearing before his house, the old ministre la 
guerre shouted commands, and there they pitched camp. 
“There were even dogs and chickens,” he said, “and pigs.” 
Wirkus stood watching this from his front door, he told 
me, thinking, “What the hell?” He went back into the 
house, he said, and put on his belt with his forty-five auto- 
matic. He said he also put on his lieutenant’s helmet. He 
had seen his six gendarmes out there, standing off at a dis- 
tance, gaping like sheep. It was the first, last, and only 
time he had ever packed a gun, he said, in his whole four 
years at La Gonave. Wirkus talked well when once he got 
started. He said he was so surprised at this eruption that 
the thought of his stone wharf never entered his head. The 
ministre la guerre, escorted by flags, came over to see him 
and explained. In exactly four days, Wirkus told me, “they 
had the stone wharf built, completed, finished.” They 
wouldn’t take pay from him, they wouldn’t take gifts, they 
wouldn’t even take food or permit help from his village. 
They were “high-handed.” And when they had finished they 
broke camp, came and marched three times around his 
house, waving their flags and singing a song about him, and 
went back to the mountain. “Hot damn,” said Wirkus, 
grinning. He grinned in memory over it, of what a fool 
he’d been to put on his belt, and of how they’d got his stone 
wharf finished in four days. 

He guessed that was about the whole story of how they’d 
made him a king, except — “well, you know these Haitians, 
the ones back in the bush . . . they’re superstitious, super- 
stitious about everything,” and some of the old ones had 



the notion that he’d been “sent.” Well, that was all right, 
he had been sent, said he — by orders of the U. S. Marine 

We got talking about the peasants. “They’re a funny 
lot,” he said. “You think they’re simple. They’re easy 
enough to handle. But you think you know everything that’s 
going on in their heads, and then you find out that you don’t 
know a damned thing about them.” 

We arrived at Queen Ti Meminne’s habitation earlier 
than she had expected us. She was busily engaged in super- 
vising the royal baking for the festivities that would be 
held in our honor that night. She was a huge, squat negress, 
past fifty, solid bulk rather than fat, with a big, heavy head, 
and heavy but not gross features. In physiognomy, except 
for her blackness and sex, she resembled a certain type of 
American demagogue politician. She looked capable, but 
not lovable. When we rode into the compound, she was 
seated on a low stool under a palm canopy, imperiously 
shouting orders in a hoarse, deep voice, and munching a 
stalk of sugar cane. 

She was clothed in a checkered Mother Hubbard and a 
blue bandanna. She wore bracelets and earrings. She was 
barefooted. She heaved herself up and waddled to greet us 
as we dismounted. She was very respectful and friendly to 
Wirkus. But there was no ceremony about it, either on his 
part or hers. The ceremonies, titles, formalities, and obei- 
sances, I gathered, were confined entirely to the formal con- 
vocations and assemblies. She shouted commands about the 
care of our horses, water and food for them and us. There 
must have been a dozen people there to serve her, hired 
servants and relatives, I judged, ranging in age from naked 
brats to crones. She was a widow and boss of her own house- 
hold as well as a queen. After seeing that we were comfort- 
able and food spread before us, she returned to her stool 
under the canopy and resumed direction of the baking. 

There was something Alice-in-Wonderland about her 


bulk and her baking, her scowling, imperious face; with gin- 
gerbread cookies and casava cakes, more than a bushel of 
them already piled on a blanket before her, and others com- 
ing on trays from the oven. There was something decidedly 
Alice-in-Wonderland about the stalk of sugar cane she was 
chewing; it was golden in the sunlight and you could half 
shut your eyes and imagine that the queen was angrily 
munching her scepter. 

Through an open door we could see big flaps of dough 
being cut up by three girls. On another table, dough was 
being kneaded, and on another white flour was spread. 

Outside, under a smaller tunnelle^ the casava cakes were 
being baked by an old man and two boys. A five-foot cir- 
cular sheet of heavy iron was raised slightly from the ground 
with hot embers beneath it — a gigantic pancake gridiron. 
The gingerbread was being carried on trays to an oven cut 
out of a limestone hillside. The old woman who tended it, 
pushing the trays far in with a long pole, had built a shelter 
of banana leaves against the sun. 

Wirkus took me to see the big drum which stood upright 
beneath a tree. It was a monster, as tom-toms go, but noth- 
ing of that sort is ever quite as big as you expect it to be — 
not even a whale or the Wool worth Tower or the Olympic. 
This drum, a cylinder hollowed from a tree-trunk, with a 
head of bull’s hide, was just a few inches taller than a man. 
I was disappointed. I had thought it was going to be at least 
ten feet high. It was beaten, Wirkus told me, with the two 
fists, and the man had to stand on a platform when he beat 
it. This somewhat assuaged my disappointment. After all, 
it was a monster. 

I hadn’t felt drawn toward Queen Ti Meminne. I didn’t 
find her sympathetic. When Wirkus asked her to let me 
photograph her while there was still plenty of sunlight, I 
became slightly annoyed with her. She insisted on dressing 
first, and I wanted her the way she was. She went into one 
of the houses, yelled for maidservants, and presently 



emerged with a white muslin “store” dress, stockings, and 
black patent leather shoes. She had taken off her bandanna 
and smeared her black cheeks with powder. It took Wirkus 
hve minutes, at my request, to persuade her to wind another 
turban around her head. When we posed her in a chair, on 
a mat, with Wirkus in another chair by her side, she yelled 
to one of the girls to run into the house for the wooden 
baton which was her scepter. I was beginning to respect her, 
if I didn’t like her. She was a person, and a strong-char- 
actered person. As I was about to press the camera shutter, 
she felt something still lacking to her dignity and emitted 
another hoarse yell, this time for the drapeau. A young girl 
came, bubbling with interest but a little afraid of the 
camera, and knelt with the flag before her. Ti Meminne, 
who had had some previous experience of being photo- 
graphed since the advent of Wirkus, considered the matter, 
and noted that the girl and the flag would obscure the glory 
of her patent leather shoes. With a well-directed kick in 
the bunda, she toppled the girl over and ordered her to kneel 
at the left. Then she patted her on the head to show that she 
wasn’t angry, and finally I got the picture. I decided that 
queens are the way they are. They are not like presidents. 
They don’t have to put on cowboy hats and shake hands and 
smile sourly and say they owed it all to their mothers. I 
mentally apologized to her for not liking her. I didn’t say 
anything to Wirkus about it at all. I was wrong anyway. 
If she had proved to be something like a black tribal queen 
in an African tom-tom movie, I suppose I should have been 
enchanted with the theatricality. When, instead of that, she 
had turned out to be a real and somewhat surly strong- 
headed person, it had annoyed me. Wirkus and I went down 
the mountainside to see if we could shoot a few wild pigeons 
for her. 

The events of the evening were sufficiently dramatic. I 
forgot all about Ti Meminne’s patent leather shoes and the 
powder on her cheeks when that monster drum began to 

Ssc page 20i> 

... he had to whip her 
once or twice a year.” 


boom. Toward dusk, up from the narrow, winding foot- 
paths came processions of negroes, headed by women bear- 
ing flags, singing, “Drapeau! Drapeau/ Drapeau/” and men 
blowing conch-shells. As some of the processions arrived 
and ceased their noise, we could hear others approaching a 
half mile distant down the mountainside. The flag-bearers, 
always women and usually the handsomest wenches, were 
tall, upstanding, barefooted, their bodies covered only by 
thin, faded cotton shifts, which molded to their high breasts 
and powerful buttocks as they moved; they wore barbar- 
ically brilliant red, yellow, and sapphire bandanna head- 
cloths, gold earrings, and necklaces of coral and glass beads. 
All the flags, as the different groups arrived, were stuck 
horizontally in the thatch roofing of the big peristyle under 
which the convocation was to take place. The royal orchestra 
consisted of three drums, a wooden box on which a man rat- 
a-tatted lustily with two sticks, and a rattle (^cha-cha) ^ 
made with pebbles in a canister. 

King Wirkus and Queen Ti Meminne sat on a raised 
platform behind the drums. On his head was a high crown 
of yellow feathers with little pieces of mirror sewn in, as 
they are frequently sewn on Hindu tapestries, glittering in 
the torchlight like rhinestones or diamonds. Wirkus would 
never let me photograph him with this crown on his head. 
He felt that if it were published, it might make him seem 
ridiculous back home. As a matter of fact, it was not ridic- 
ulous in that setting, as he sat there, blond, square-jawed, 
and soberly competent. It wasn’t a joke he was lending 
himself to. These natives took themselves and him seriously. 

With some of the groups that arrived were the presidents 
and ministres of various allied Congo Societies, the Belle 
Etoile, Fleur de Jeunesse, Reservee La Famille, Sainte 
Trinite. The presidents were old men chiefly. There were 

^ This is a sound-imitative word of African origin. In creole it has sev- 
eral meanings. It means a tin can or gourd with pebbles rattling in it ; it 
means also a woman’s clacking tongue ; also a kind of locust tree whose 
dry pods rattle when stirred by the breeze. 



also minor queens. Each society had one. Their names were 
shouted out as they arrived, and some of them were nice 
names; I remember a venerable old man called Augustin 
Tranquil, and a woman who was La Reine Maselie. As 
these special personages arrived, they were escorted into 
the peristyle with their groups, flag girls holding the flags 
of their societies crossed over their heads. These flags were 
of various colors, some cotton and some silk ; the flag of the 
Societe Belle Etoile was of blue silk with white rosettes 
sewn on it and streamers of orange ; the flag of another so- 
ciety was red with three inverted V’s in black. 

As a queen or president was marched into the peristyle, 
the drums would beat out the special rhythm of that society 
as they marched circling three times around, then stopped 
before the drums. If the personage was a man, he stood to 
salute, swinging off his hat and holding it straight out at 
arm’s length before him; if a woman, she dropped to one 
knee, in a sort of kneeling curtsy. 

When various of these had arrived and made obeisance. 
Queen Ti Meminne’s own master of ceremonies, armed with 
a long baton, took charge, assembling before the drums the 
flag women and officials of Ti Meminne’s own court. This 
is what he shouted, as they assembled: 


"Le Roil Le Roil Le Roil” 

(“Helloil Helloil Helloil” was shouted by the crowd, 
with a short rat-a-tat salvo on the drums.) 


“La Reinel La Reinel La Reinel” 

“Helloil Helloil Helloil” (Another drum salvo.) 

“GenHal La Placel 

“Adjutant La Place I 

“President en chef I 

“Ministre la guerre I 

“Ministre Vinterieurl 

“Ministre agriculture I” 



“HelloL' Helloil lielloir (Salvo.) 

“ha Reine chanteuse! 

“La Reine Victoria! 

“ha Reine Drapeau! 

“Confiance La Reine!” 

“Helloi! Helloi! Helloi!” (Final salvo.) 

A pale yellow silk bandanna scarf was handed to Queen 
Ti Meminne, who knotted it around King Wirkus’ shoul- 
ders. Four big negroes mounted the throne, and lifting up 
the chair in which King Wirkus was seated, marched with 
him three times around the peristyle, as the pope is carried 
in St. Peter’s, and then around in circles through the crowd 
outside it, the people falling in behind, shouting, waving 
flags, blowing conch-shells. And this ended the formal cere- 

A danse Congo and feasting followed, which lasted 
through the night. 

There is a point scarcely necessary to state, but which I 
promised Wirkus I would set down in so many plain words 
so that nobody could misunderstand. Wirkus, though king 
of the island, is not married to the queen ; he is not married 
to anybody. 

Chapter III 


When my city Haitian friends had learned that I was 
going over to live for a while with Wirkus on La Gonave, 
they said, “Tiens! tiensl” as if I had announced a voyage 
to the North Pole or the moon. Why La Gonave remains so 
isolated, although close and in plain sight, requires explain- 
ing. There are thousands of fine automobiles in Port-au- 
Prince, but there is not a single launch, motor boat, or 
power boat, not a single sailing pleasure craft privately 
owned, either among the rich natives or in the American 
colony.^ When I wanted to go to La Gonave, for instance, 
there were just two ways to get there: fly by military plane, 
or knock about in the bay from ten to thirty hours in one of 
the primitive tubs of some peasant fisherman or some island 
boatman who had come in with cotton or other produce. 
Furthermore, there is no reason to go except curiosity. Con- 
sequently La Gonave is the subject of fantastic speculation, 
and around it queer rumors and legends grow. As in the 
case of the black queen who ruled on a mountain top and 
the coronation of King Wirkus, these stories sometimes have 
a basis in fact. 

There is the tale of a great cave beneath the mountains ; 
the tale also of a bottomless pool in which dwells a sacred 
crocodile that no one dares to kill ; a tale also that at Picmy 
is buried a great chest of gold, rubies, and diamonds, hidden 

Since writing this I am told that Christian Gross has bought a sloop, 
and I believe the Marine Corps has acquired a sea-sled, in addition to the 
High Commissioner’s barge. 




there by the Indian Queen Anacoana who was hanged by 
the Spaniards.^ 

A fresh mystery, leading to an unforeseen solution, de- 
veloped while I was living on the island with Wirkus. One 
morning as we were at breakfast old Tonton Zo, captain of 
a fishing-boat which occasionally transported messages to 
and from the mainland, appeared with a soiled, week-old 
letter to Wirkus from gendarmerie headquarters. It was 
official. It said that the newspapers in Port-au-Prince were 
full of a story to the effect that the tomb of the lost 
Dauphin of France, the son of Louis XVI, had been dis- 
covered near the village of Z’Etroits on La Gonave. The in- 
formation was specific: “. . . a grotto concealing a small 
natural basin, having a rock on which is an iron plate on 
which is written, ‘Pour la tranq^uillite de notre Rol nous 
Vavons enferme id’ ” And, of course it was added, inevit- 
ably, in the newspapers, that treasures were buried with 
him. Clippings from the newspapers were inclosed. Wirkus 
suspected it was a deliberate hoax, but the letter was an 
official order demanding an investigation. 

We went to Z’Etroits, a God-forsaken mud village three 
hours up the coast, where he had two black gendarmes 
permanently stationed. Nobody, of course, had ever heard 
of any ancient tomb. Wirkus said to the two gendarmes, ‘‘I 
think this is all blague^ but I want you to keep at it and find 
out for me if there is, or ever has been, any such thing as an 
old iron plate with writing on it in this part of the island.” 

News of the result of that search reached us ahead of 
the gendarmes. There was great excitement among the^ 
natives. A man came riding into Anse, shouting that the 
tomb had been found. Later in the afternoon one of the 

2 It is a historical fact that Anacoana with her court and dancing girls 
used to come over from Leogane in long canoes to bathe in the pool 
beneath the waterfall. People often talk of making a syndicate to go over 
and dig for the treasure. Treasure-hunting is a favorite occupation of 
Haitians, high and low. Sometimes it is successful. Treasures were buried 
by the buccaneers and by fleeing colonial slave-owners. 



gendarmes came down by boat, triumphantly excited, with 
a heavy package wrapped up in gunny-sacking. He had 
found the plate with writing on it, and had conceived it 
his duty to rip the thing out of the rock with crowbars, and 
here it was. We opened it, somewhat sharing his excitement. 
It was a circular bronze plaque which had been cemented 
into the rock by the geodetic surveying crew of the United 
States destroyer Eagle in 1919, marked with the altitude, 
latitude, and longitude, and used as a triangulation point 
against mountain-tops across the bay. It was a handsome 
thing. Engraved around these useful scientific data in a 
circle was the lettering; 

“republique d’haiti. defense de toucher!” 

Apparently illiterate peasants coming on the plaque set 
in the lonely rock had invented a legend that a roi was 
buried there; the legend had spread to the mainland, and 
the Port-au-Prince journalists had done the rest. 

The “sacred crocodile,” however, turned out to be no 
hoax. He was real. His is still alive, I believe. He lives in 
a pool near Z’Abricots, in the interior, and occasionally 
drags under and devours a pig or a calf which comes there 
to drink, but the natives are afraid to let him be shot, and 
even sometimes provide food for him; he has been there 
from beyond the memory of man, and perhaps incarnates 
one of their mysteres. Wirkus respects their wishes. He is 
also wisely tolerant in other matters. Wirkus is no reformer. 
He doesn’t trouble himself, for instance, about the almost 
universal polygamy on the island. He took me to see a tall 
buck named Charlemonde whom he had made a police 
rurale. Charlemonde had begun as a barefoot vagabond, 
working in other people’s fields. No woman would have 
him. After he became prosperous, he courted one who had 
scorned him in the days of his poverty, made her his mis- 
tress, and then kicked her out. Charlemonde had a way 



with women, and now when we went to see him he was 
surrounded by a harem. They worked in the fields for him 
and ministered to his comfort. He was like a barnyard cock. 
Another gros negre named Erte was married to three sisters. 

There is also occasional polyandry on the island — that 
is, real, primitive polyandry, which is different from either 
promiscuity or variety. 

A case of this sort came to our attention in connection 
with something I have found among my pencil notes of the 
La Gonave period, at the top of which I seem to have 
scribbled, “Idyllic Episode Among the Mangroves.” Be- 
neath it is a transcription of a short report written in ex- 
tremely bad French by one of the few of Wirkus’ gendarmes 
who was able to write French at all.® Freely translated it 
reads : 

Village of the Big Mangroves, March 29, 1927. 
Lieutenant Wirkus, 

Commander of the Island of La Gonave. 

I send you in the custody of Gendarme Andre Maurice two good- 
for-nothings, vagabonds. They amuse themselves all day long with 
a bamboo flute of the sort called vaxine; they dance and sing and 
that’s all they do. 

My respects, 

Your devoted soldier, 

{signed) Jean Baptiste. 

P. S. Behold also a girl named Lovelia who was with these two 
vagabonds and who vociferated words prejudicial to the gendarmerie, 
without cause. 

® Gros Mangles, 29 Mars, 1927 

Lieut. Wirkus 

Commandant de I’lsle de Gonave 

Je vou expedie sous la conduite de Gendarme Andre Maurice deuz per- 
sonnes de gens sans aveu. Us a joue tout la journee avec un bambou, 
comme sous nom de vaxine; ils fait danser rara et chanter sans rien faire. 

Mes respects 

votre soldat devoue 

Jean Baptiste 

Voici ime femme de la nommee Lovelia qui etait avec cas deux vagabonds 
et qui a vocifere de paroles au prejudice de la gendarmerie sans cause. 



The gendarme Andre bearing these dreadful accusations 
brought his three prisoners down from Gros Mangles on a 
fishing-boat, and waded ashore with them at Anse, across 
the coral reefs. The letter sounded more like a page from 
the Pastorals of Theocritus than it did a criminal accusa- 
tion. I wondered from what little paradise beneath the 
cocoanut trees, where two young men and a girl played the 
flute and sang and danced all day long, the gendarme must 
have dragged them. None of the three seemed more than 
twenty or twenty-one. The two youths were scared and 
sulky; the girl Lovelia, a handsome, slender wench, was 
still “vociferating.” Wirkus fired a string of amusing com- 
pliments at her in low creole and told her to shut up or 
he’d give her ten years in prison. She stuck out her tongue 
at him, and obeyed. Andre had confiscated and brought with 
him as Exhibit A the bamboo flute. It was of noble pro- 
portions, several inches in diameter and more than two feet 

After their names and the charges were inscribed in the 
register, we took them out under a tree, making Andre bring 
the flute. The two young men were at first suspicious and 
unwilling, but Lovelia, threatening to slap the face of one 
of them, forced them to acquiesce, and once started, they 
might have been going still if we hadn’t said, “Enough.” 
The flute emitted rich, soulful mooings, the second man 
tapped with sticks and sang, while Lovelia danced the 
cancan like a black Salome. 

There is a misdemeanor law in Haiti — seldom enforced 
— against vagabondage, and another against vituperating 
gendarmes in uniform; so Wirkus sent for the old Anse 
justice of the peace to sift the matter. Andre testified against 
them, saying that the two youths were notorious for never 
working, had no occupation and no visible means of sup- 
port, and as for the girl, she had screamed curses at him 
when he arrested them; so he had arrested her too. But 
this scarcely made sense. Gendarmes do not arrest people 



for not working in Haiti — not even on the mainland, much 
less on La Gonave. The men were frightened still, inarticu- 
late in their defense, but Lovelia was voluble and illumi- 
nating. The two weren’t vagabonds, she said ; she supported 
them, she provided for them, and they didn’t need to work. 
Was one of them her man? Bien surl They both were. They 
were etahli with her. The whole trouble was, she said, that 
Jean Baptiste, the other gendarme, was building himself a 
new house at Gros Mangles, had tried high-handedly to 
impound her two men to do the clissage (withing). It not 
being needful for them to labor, they had refused. And 
Jean Baptiste in revenge had them arrested. Why hadn’t 
Jean Baptiste come down? Because he was afraid, said she, 
sticking out her tongue at Andre. Andre, brow-beaten a bit, 
admitted on cross-questioning that there was some truth 
in this, but said Jean Baptiste had offered to pay them for 
their work, so that it was “regular.” 

“Liar!” shouted Lovelia, “he didn’t offer to pay! Who 
ever heard of a gendarme paying? And if he had, they 
didn’t have to do it for him.” Lovelia was asked about curs- 
ing the gendarme, about the words she had “vociferated 
prejudicial to the gendarmerie.” Absolutely not! She had 
not cursed at all, and she had said nothing prejudicial to 
the gendarmerie, for which she had great respect — only this 
Andre oughtn’t to be in it. Well, what had she said to 
Andre? She would willingly repeat it, for it was the truth: 
she had said that Andre was a whoremonger, a robber, a 
petty thief, he had the yaws as well as a number of other 
vile diseases, and he wanted to go to bed with her ! Those 
were personal matters, said she, which had nothing to do 
with the gendarmerie. Lovelia was a smart one. Andre was 
beginning to realize that he had made a mistake in adding 
her to his prisoners. He became confused. He hadn’t antic- 
ipated all this investigation and cross-questioning over so 
trivial a matter. He and Jean Baptiste were due for a severe 
reprimand, if nothing worse. 



And presently Lovelia departed triumphantly with her 
two men, also with the bamboo flute. I hope they are still 
dancing and singing all day long beneath the palm trees. 
And I suspect that they probably are. Wirkus is not a mis- 

I felt often on La Gonave as if he and I were a couple 
of Robinson Crusoes. It had become familiar to him after 
four years, but we occasionally discovered things that were 
new even to Wirkus. 

The northwestern end of the island is a desert of thorn 
bushes without springs, almost wholly uninhabited. One 
day, as Wirkus and I were riding through it, planning to 
come out at Trou Louis on the coast, where there is a col- 
lection of fishing huts, and where we could find water which 
the inhabitants carried from a brackish well some miles 
south of the village on the hills, we lost our way and 
emerged at a point on the barren coast north of Trou Louis. 
As we followed the coast we saw a man and a donkey wad- 
ing out into the Atlantic Ocean where there was a flat, low 
shelving beach. The donkey was laden with a double sac- 
paille. We saw them start briskly, the man leading the 
donkey, as if they were planning to wade across to Cuba, 
and out of curiosity we rode down to the beach to see what 
they were about. Wirkus suddenly shouted at me, “Do you 
see what I see? Have they gone crazy, or are we crazy?” 
The man and the donkey were knee-deep in the rippling 
incoming tide about fifty yards from the shore. The donkey 
had his nose in the water and was apparently drinking his 
fill, while the man was scooping water up in his straw hat 
and drinking it out of the salty ocean. Wirkus shouted to 
him, ''Qa ou fais la? Ou fou? Ou vie mouri?'' (What are 
you doing there? Have you gone coocoo? Do you want 
to kill yourself?) The man raised himself up, waved his 
hat, grinned, and called out, '‘Bon jou\ blanc. Ou gagnin 
soif? Vini! Li empile douce?^ (Hello, white man. Are you 
thirsty? Come on! It is sweet.) 



Meanwhile we had ridden out through the shallow water 
to where he was. The donkey was still sucking up long 
draughts of what seemed to be ocean water, and we got 
down and scooped up some of it in our hands and tasted it. 
It was slightly brackish, but good fresh water just the same, 
bubbling up through the sand over a space that must have 
been twenty or thirty feet in diameter. It was a big sub- 
marine spring of sweet water. 

The man said that they had found it from seeing the 
wild cattle come there to drink and that they had caught 
or killed dozens of them there until the wild cattle no longer 
came, but that all the people who crossed that way knew of 
this spring and preferred it to the water at Trou Louis. 

Seeing this negro and his donkey drinking from the salty 
ocean was one of the memorable experiences I had on La 
Gonave. Before we learned the explanation it had already 
crystallized itself as one of the pictures which do not occur 
except in dreams — like seeing a man with three heads, or 
like floating in the air, or entering a crowded ballroom 

But there was another thing on La Gonave that seemed 
to me to contain an even stronger element of the fantastic. 
Its explanation was simple; indeed, it required none; yet 
it never ceased to affect me with a feeling that some queer 
influence was at work. I am wondering now if it may not 
convey a clearer impression of what La Gonave was really 
like than anything else I have written or will write. Per- 
haps there will be many readers to whom it will mean 
nothing at all, who will wonder in their turns why I have so 
much as mentioned it. It was merely a matter of scraps of 
old newspaper, some of them several years old, some of 
them comparatively recent, sometimes rain-soaked and 
rotting beside a jungle trail where no one had passed for 
months, sometimes pasted on the mud wall of a thatched 
hut in the mountains, sometimes yellow and wind-blown 
in the hahonde desert, sometimes wrapped round two cents’ 



worth of dried fish sold by an old woman down at Picmy. 

Now, a yellowed scrap of newspaper, particularly when 
it is years old, and fluttering in the wind or rotting in a 
forest, should be a scrap of any old newspaper. Pick one 
up at random in Central Park or Central China, and it may 
be anything. But on this West Indian island, with its five 
hundred square miles of territory, with its ten thousand in- 
habitants, every chance scrap of newspaper, when you 
picked it up and looked at it, turned out as if by a goblin’s 
trick or a crazy man’s hallucination to be the Pittston (Pa.) 

For instance, one night when the Congo tom-toms were 
booming, while hundreds of blacks danced their old African 
dances and howled and the white king sat beneath a palm 
canopy decked with flowers, an old woman from Grande 
Source offered me a casava cake wrapped in a torn bit of 
paper. There was print on it. Through the grease by flicker- 
ing torchlight I read how Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Phitty had 
entertained the Ladies’ Aid Society of Pittston with a pro- 
gram of Welsh folk-songs and hymns ; how Mrs. Anna Wir- 
kus had been visiting relatives in Wilkes-Barre. 

Chapter IV 


The leading citizen of La Gonave, after Wirkus and the 
queen, is a gros negre by the name of Constant Polynice. 

This big negro, however, is neither big nor black. He is a 
little, nervous wisp of a man, pale mulatto, scarcely five 
feet tall, thin, small-boned, with tiny hands and feet. His 
only obvious virile feature is his long black mustaches. In 
physiognomy he is a bit like a rice-fed mandarin. He habit- 
ually dresses in khaki, with leather leggings which he taps 
with a bone-handled riding-crop. He is a great deal on 

His plantation, called Derniere Marque, is between the 
mountains at the head of the Plaine Mapou, overlooking 
his extensive cotton fields. It is about three miles beyond 
Bois Noir. 

Since I had wanted to remain in the interior of the island 
for a longer time than Wirkus could spare from his duties, 
he had asked Polynice to put me up and take care of me. 
We had hunted together. Constant was an ardent supporter 
of Wirkus and the Wirkus regime; so I was welcomed and 
made to feel at home. 

Polynice was not a native of La Gonave. He had come 
over from the mainland a decade ago, and was now chief 
tax collector for the island. 

His habitation is a group of the usual mud-walled, 
earth-floored, straw-roofed houses, but inside the main 
house is a big four-poster mahogany bed, brought over years 
ago from Miragoane. It is the only bed on La Gonave.^ 

1 All Haitian peasants sleep habitually on thick straw-woven or grass- 
woven mats which lie all day outdoors in the sun and are taken into the 
house at night. They are sanitary and comfortable. 




Wirkus has iron cots. Natives come from miles around to 
see Polynice’s bed. He also has a dining-room table, a metal 
washstand with a mirror. 

But the proudest of all his possessions is pretty mulatto 
Julie with her three-year-old baby Marianne. This eharm- 
ing Julie, called Madame Polynice, is in reality his con- 
cubine. He would gladly marry her, but he left a church 
wife over in Port-au-Prince. Julie is a peasant, but she has 
small, delicately formed wrists and ankles, wavy, glossy 
hair. He imported Julie, along with the mahogany bed, 
from the mainland. She wears peasant dress, a single, clean, 
faded shift with no other garments beneath it, and goes 
bare-legged in flat leather sandals. But she has also a 
“store” dress, one pair of silk stockings, and a pair of little 
French shoes with high heels which hang on a conspicuous 
peg in the living-room of the caille and are admired by 
visitors. This special finery she dons only for rare descents 
on donkey-back to Pointe-a-Raquette or Anse. But around 
the house daily she wears elaborate earrings and flaming, 
gorgeous headcloths of brilliant sapphire blue, or red. She 
wears also occasionally a sort of howling purple, one that 
would kill any white skin but which, with her rich mulatto 
cheeks, is as effective as something from an Egyptian fresco. 
And it is difficult to imagine any white baby, naked in 
the sunshine, half so lovely as is Julie’s little golden- 
skinned Marianne, when an old black woman servant 
bathes her every morning in a wooden trough. 

Marianne’s ears are already pierced, and tiny gold rings 
dangle; her head is tied in a Lilliputian bandanna of soft 
pastel reds and blues like a scrap of a faded Paisley shawl. 
She is naked all day long and crawls about the habitation 
yard. She is beginning to try to walk. She has no fear of don- 
keys or horses. A pig knocks her over and she laughs. The 
larger animals are careful not to step on her. But during 
midday hours servants must watch to make sure she stays in 
the shade. The place is overrun with old crones who do the 



cooking and washing, kids who sweep with besoms. Julie 
takes no part in the household work except to make coffee, 
which is a ceremony. 

Julie regards Polynice as a superior being. He has money 
and a pearl-handled pistol and sometimes wears a collar 
and necktie. The peasants who come to pay their taxes say, 
“Oz//, msiev* le co7nptrolleurr And when they call her 
Madame la Comptrolleur she beams. 

Polynice is an amiable martinet. He is good-natured, sly, 
often amusing, but he has a fiery quick temper which every- 
body fears. He sometimes has trouble with peasants who 
come telling lies about the number of their cultivated acres. 
Only land under actual cultivation is taxed. It is amusing 
to see him curse and push and sometimes vigorously kick 
this or that hulking giant of a black who could break him 
like a match between two fingers. Once I saw him lay a 
broom-handle vigorously over Julie’s shoulders, and he told 
me he had to whip her once or twice a year. But usually he 
is amiable, gentle, charming. Nevertheless all the peasants 
hold him in wholesome fear. 

The truth about this little wisp of a Polynice is that he 
is a killer — a born killer, and you can read it in his eyes. 
There are men like that. I do not mean that there is any 
criminal tendency in Polynice. He is a law-abiding, peace- 
loving man. I think I can illustrate what I mean. Some years 
ago Polynice insisted on having a survey made of a certain 
disputed cultivated tract which he believed the owners had 
been returning at less than its true acreage. The clan, who 
were bad negroes in a remote district, sent word that if he 
persisted they would make away with him or drive him off 
the island. In the feud which followed, they had killed 
Constant’s own brother, Ludovic. Fifteen of them came one 
night to Constant’s house, this same house where I was now 
staying. Four of them forced their way in through the 
door. Three of them had machetes and one had a rifle. Con- 
stant remained seated, quiet as a mouse. They told him 



he’d have to get out, leave the island. The man with the 
rifle swung it up threateningly to enforce the order. Constant 
shot him through the head, and killed two of the others in 
their tracks. The fourth man and the band outside the door 

Constant now, at this later time, when I was living with 
him, had few enemies. He was very popular, for he was 
considered to be just. But he did have one or two bitter 
enemies. It was rumored one day when he and I were at a 
cockfight that one of these enemies was coming to seek a 
quarrel. Constant, it happened, was unarmed. The man 
came. He carried a machete, and he was fully twice the 
weight of Polynice. He swaggered and glared, and edged 
over toward Polynice. The feud was known. The crowd 
was hushed, watching. Polynice turned his back, and when 
he turned again he had in his hand an ordinary penknife, 
whittling a stick. And the look of the killer — the born, 
natural killer — was in little Polynice’s eyes. The man 
fidgeted and walked away. 

But this was only one side of Polynice. It was latent. 
It came seldom to the surface. He was in no sense a bully 
or a quarrel-seeker. He was popular. He was quick-witted, 
amusing. His nickname was Ti Malice, The Sly One. 

He was an excellent mentor, guide, and friend for me in 
studying the intimate social life of this mountainside. He 
entered into the peasant life; he was himself a peasant; 
yet he was also capable of seeing it apart, getting a per- 
spective on it. Constant Polynice was a superior man. 

“Polynice was smarter than anybody.” 

Chapter V 


Constant said it was the little snake that had wriggled 
across our path. Only a couple of fools, he said, would have 
gone on to the cockfight on that particular Sunday morn- 
ing. But I think it was the fault of the airplane that dropped 
bonbons for Julie. 

Of course. Constant and I both had it coming to us. He 
had been giving me lessons for some time past, and I had 
proven a fairly apt pupil. We had been winning steadily. 
He was proud of me and I am afraid we had begun to strut 
and crow as vainly as any of the silly roosters. It hadn’t 
been always merely luck, either. Nor had it always been 
the superior fighting quality of Constant’s birds. It isn’t 
always what’s hatched out of an egg that counts in these 
Haitian cockfights. We had been sitting up nights. There 
had been the problem, for instance, of a conspicuous little 
red cock, Le Rouleur (The Roller), so named because he 
fought in a peculiar way, rolling, or weaving. He was 
deadly, but he might as well have been dead. Osmann and 
the crowd only laughed at us when we offered to match him 
against cocks almost twice his size. It had taken us a good 
many nights to work that out. It had involved some amateur 
plastic surgery which completely changed the appearance 
of Le Rouleur’s comb, and it had involved waiting patiently 
for a small can of floor-stain. We had tried ordinary paint, 
but it wouldn’t work. However, when we finally finished 
the job, Le Rouleur’s own hen mother wouldn’t have recog- 
nized him. Then we planted him down at Pointe-a- 

Racquette. On market-day I bought him, for five gourdes. 




Some of the Osmann crowd witnessed this transaction, and 
without suspicion; so it supplied a plausible origin. And 
we had made a sweet clean-up. Osmann himself had dropped 
nearly a hundred gourdes on the one fight, and from the 
crowd we had shaken down a whole hatful of small coins. 
Of course they had all recognized Le Rouleur thirty sec- 
onds after he began to fight, and their pained howls of sur- 
prise made bedlam. But it was their own sort of a trick, 
done to a fine turn, and they pounded me on the back while 
they cursed me and swore revenge. Constant leaped and 
danced in a frenzy of pride over “his white” — they used to 
say always when we appeared, “Here comes Polynice and 
his white” — he tore off my hat and threw it away and 
kissed me at least eight times on the top of my head. 
Osmann sent in for a bottle of rum with three small glasses 
and said he wished it was poison. The rivalry between 
Polynice and Osmann was of long years’ standing. Polynice 
tiny and mulatto, Osmann big and black, were the two 
gros negres and largest landholders of the mountain. 
Osmann was another one who wore shoes even on week- 
days. The cockfights were at Osmann’s. They usually lasted 
all day. Fifty, sixty, sometimes a hundred barefoot, blue- 
overalled negroes came from up and down the mountain, 
even from the southern end of the Plaine Mapou, each with 
a rooster under his arm — and a trick up his sleeve, more 
often than not. The women came too with their trays of 
gingerbread, casava cakes, tobacco, dried herring, and raw 
clairin, which they sold at a half cent per dram. It was like 
a little country fair. As I say, Polynice and I had been 
doing too much strutting. Constant and “his white” deemed 
themselves smarter than anybody. 

Some weeks after our clean-up with Le Rouleur, a man 
from Bois Noir came to see us with the whispered news 
that Osmann had cooked up a trick to take us. Osmann, it 
seemed, had been across the bay to Saint Marc and had 
picked up there a little Cuban cock, a veritable coq gime^ 



which he was planning to run in on us as an ordinary bird. 
And it was going to be murder. You see, the Haitian cocks 
generally, though game enough in a sense and pretty good 
fighting-birds, are not gamecocks, technically. That is to 
say, they are not generally pure bred. In Cuba, cockfighting 
is a sport of the rich as well as the populace, and special 
strains of cocks are bred there like race horses in England. 
But in Haiti it is the sport par excellence of the peasants, 
and most of the birds are talented barnyard accidents. They 
are bush leaguers. To run in a Cuban cock on us, therefore, 
was like slipping a Yankee pitcher into a prep-school ball 
game, or a professional prize fighter into an amateur boxing- 
bout. But fortunately we had been warned. The friend who 
came to tip us off described the bird minutely. It was a 
medium-sized zinga^ which is to say gray speckled, and had 
a scar beneath the feathers on the low left side of its neck. 
Polynice and I were setting traps those days, but we weren’t 
falling into any. 

The next Saturday when we arrived at the gaguerre^ 
there, sure enough, tethered inconspicuously at the foot of 
a coffee bush near Osmann’s other birds, was the new zinga. 
There were several others of his cocks we knew well, a 
black one he called Diable-en-Deuil (The Devil in 
Mourning), another big, ungainly, but powerful rooster 
named Trois Boutons (Three Buttons), and still another 
called ’Longer Diole (Stick Out Your Beak). Osmann, 
putting his big gorilla arm around little mulatto Polynice’s 
shoulder as if they were the friendliest brothers — which in 
a way they were — said, “I’ve got a new cock; come see what 
you think of him,” and brazenly, since its gaunt leanness 
couldn’t be disguised, “I bought him because he looks as if 
he might have a streak of game blood in him, paid ten 
gourdes, haven’t seen him fight yet, it’s just a chance; so 
I’ve named him C’est Peut-etre (It Is Perhaps). I thought 
we might try him out if you’ve brought something along 
about his same weight. YTat do you think of him?” 



Polynice picked up the mysterious stranger and examined 
him critically, verifying, I noticed, the scar on his neck. 
“He looks pretty good,” said Constant, turning his back 
and winking at me; “you’ve named him well” — and quickly 
changing the subject, “I’ve brought a big rooster along that 
might make a good match against your Trois Boutons. He’s 
never been in a gaguerre — just a barnyard animal, and slow, 
but he’s been picking on our small ones, and Julie says I 
might as well get him killed or teach him to fight. We might 
try it for, say, ten gourdes.” 

Now all this was the simple God’s truth, and of no im- 
portance. Frequently the fighting for small bets is like that, 
pure chance, for the fun of it. Osmann didn’t press the 
matter of the zinga. He came and looked at Constant’s new 
big one, said, “All right. Trois Boutons will kill him, but 
that’s your funeral.” 

It wasn’t much of a fight. Trois Boutons would have 
killed him if he hadn’t run squawking out of the ring. We 
didn’t care. And the other battles that day were generally 
of no importance until an ugly fellow named Louira from 
the Plaine Mapou arrived on horseback with a small gray 
cock named Queue ’Rache (Torn Tail), which he wanted 
to fight for big money. Now there are two ways of promot- 
ing a match at these gaguerres. One way is to run your bird 
down; to say seriously, for instance, “He’s old, he probably 
won’t make an interesting fight, but I don’t mind losing a 
few gourdes for the sake of the sport,” or to put the same 
thing humorously, “I didn’t bring him here to fight; I 
brought him to have him killed, because my woman is too 
lazy to chop off his head at home.” The second way to 
promote a fight is to brag outrageously, to insult and defy 
the world. Louira took this latter course. He produced a 
wad of a hundred gourdes and announced that his cock 
could whip anything on the island, but that probably no- 
body here had the guts to match with him and that sans 
doute he’d had his long ride for nothing. And he shook Torn 



Tail scornfully in the faces of Osmann and Polynice and 
Polynice’s white. Polynice had given me a small black cock, 
a vicious little devil which we thought might do the busi- 
ness, but while we were off discussing our chances and 
whether to risk it or not, we heard shouts, “Hors la 
gaguerrel” (Clear the ring!) and there were Osmann and 
Louira facing each other defiantly, and the cock in Osmann’s 
arms was the mysterious zinga. Apparently Louira had 
fallen into the trap set for us. We were well satisfied and 
kept our mouths tight shut, for this Louira was a man 
neither of us liked. We asked him simply if he cared to 
place a side bet of fifty gourdes. He said the hundred was 
all he’d brought and that Osmann had already covered it. 
Knowing the inside. Constant and I followed that fight 
with concentrated interest. The zinga won, of course, but it 
was by no means a massacre. It was a good fight, and there 
were moments when it seemed to us Louira’s cock had a 

As we walked back up the mountain trail that evening 
to Constant’s habitation, he was unusually silent, but I 
could tell he was bursting with something. When we came 
to a big fallen log, he motioned me to sit down with him, 
and out it came ; 

“We can beat that cock and we can beat him net^ without 
the need of any trick. Osmann is a fool. He doesn’t know 
birds as well as I. Every action, every shifting of that battle 
just now, I watched very intelligently. That zinga is a 
Cuban cock, but it is an inferior Cuban cock. Osmann has 
let himself be cheated. That cock is swift and keen, but he 
is not mediant (wicked). A great fighting-cock must have 
an evil, wicked heart. It is not sufficient to be merely ex- 
pert and courageous. We can beat that cock without tricks, 
with a cock that Osmann already knows, and therefore 
Osmann’s discomfiture will be the greater. We can beat 
him with Tribunal.” 

Tribunal was the small black cock which Constant had 



given me and which we had discussed matching against 
Louira’s on that same day — his name meant Courthouse, 
because he was black like a judge in robes, and Constant 
fancied that his frayed black comb resembled a judge’s 

“Tribunal is perhaps a shade less expert than this zinga” 
Polynice continued, “but he has the wicked heart. He fights 
to kill or die. In this case, I think he will do both, but I 
think the zinga will fall first. It is a certain risk, yes, but we 
will triumph.” 

And so the venture was decided. 

It was a week later, on a bright Sunday morning, descend- 
ing this same mountain trail, that the little green snake 
wriggled across our path. Constant blamed it all, afterward, 
on that little green snake, and it was a bad omen in Haiti. 
But we had the wicked little killer under Constant’s arm, 
with a sock pulled over its head to keep it from beaking 
chunks of skin off his hand — we had nearly seven hundred 
gourdes in our pockets — we were on our way to “take” 
Osmann, we were smarter than he was, and we kept right 
on, in the face of Providence. 

Since it was Sunday, there was a mob, and fights were 
already in progress. Osmann, Constant, and I sat on low 
stools in a corner of the square ring with its palm-thatched 
canopy upheld by poles, while the crowd squeezed five 
deep around the railings. We had the whole day before us. 
We were in no hurry to start our own dirty work, and it was 
a lot of fun to watch the other fights, to offer advice, to bet 
little sums on the side when we liked the looks of a bird. 
It was even more fun to watch the arguments and antics 
which led up to the combats. These peasant gaguerres in 
Haiti are highly democratic. The most ragged and poverty- 
stricken, but hopeful field hand with a dilapidated rooster 
and a few pennies as his total capital has as much right to 
his turn in the ring as the gros negre, the landholder, with 
his string of favorite cocks and his pockets full of money. 



But first, of course, he must make his match. To ask for a 
fight is called mander. This is done in the crowd outside 
the ring, where men whose cocks are unmatched sit with 
them tethered. The challenger crouches before the bird he 
wishes to challenge, and places his own before it, held by a 
string attached to its foot. If the challenged man is inter- 
ested, the birds are allowed to fly at each other, but jerked 
back by the strings. Violent disputes arise. Groups collect, 
offering suggestions. It is as exciting as a curb market just 
before closing. “Filer done, pour de gourdes!” shouts a chal- 
lenged one finally, (“File, therefore, for two gourdes” — 
or whatever sum has been agreed on as the bet.) Steel gaffs 
are unknown in Haiti, but the natural spurs of the bird are 
pared or filed to needle sharpness just before each combat. 
Side betting adds to the pandemonium. People rush about, 
waving small coins or bills, sometimes as little as a single 
penny — the girls and women too — screaming, “Twenty-five 
centimes on the red !” “Fifty centimes on the speckled one !” 
There are no stake-holders. If you wish to accept one of 
these bets screamed and held aloft, you simply reach up 
and seize the money. If you win, you keep it; if you lose, 
you return it double. 

Filing finished, the two opponents enter the ring with 
their birds. Each man takes a piece of ginger root, chews it 
violently, takes a mouthful of rum, then sprays this mix- 
ture through his teeth like a laundering Chinaman all over 
the cock’s body, under its wings, in between the feathers, 
which he ruffles with his fingers. This heats and excites the 
bird — gives him Dutch courage. Next, each man tastes the 
bird of his opponent. Sometimes a tricky fellow, sacrificing 
the lining of his own mouth, has mixed red pepper with 
the ginger, which is forbidden, or has smeared his bird with 
a caustic which will not penetrate its own feathers but may 
get in the eyes or beak of the other. Usually one does this 
tasting by simply tapping the bird here and there and tast- 
ing one’s own fingertips, but if there is reason to be unduly 



suspicious, you lick him over with your tongue. Each man 
watches every move of the other, hugging his own bird 
jealously, reluctantly permitting him to be touched. Even 
if the best of friends, they are noisy, quarrelsome, and seem 

When the combat begins, the two owners remain in the 
ring. They are permitted to do anything except touch or 
obstruct the birds. As the battle progresses, they gesticulate, 
crouch, and leap about, shout, scream, plead, weep, curse, 
beat their own breasts and Mother Earth. The crowd also 
shouts and screams while blood and feathers ily. The 
Haitian cocks usually begin by leaping at and over one 
another, each seeking to use its spurs in the classic manner, 
and occasionally a fight ends quickly with a clean spur- 
thrust, but ordinarily they soon give up these classic gladia- 
torial tactics and fight it out with their beaks. Battles to 
the death are therefore unusual. More often one bird finally 
turns tail and runs, while the other, after pursuing him two 
or three times around the ring, stops, struts, and crows 
shrilly in victory. Occasionally there is something grand 
about this crowing — a thrill in it like brazen bugles. I have 
seen a cock flap its wings, lift its head to the sky, and shrill 
its paean of triumph, only to fall dead a moment later in 
the dust beside its conquered enemy. 

So, all in all, it was very exciting and interesting that 
Sunday morning at Osmann’s gaguerre, and because of all 
the noisy shouting, no one heard the distant droning of the 
airplane. It came roaring down and circled so low that I 
could recognize Captain Pressley — who is now flight com- 
mander of the Marine Corps field at Port-au-Prince — and 
all of us could recognize Wirkus, waving his arm and grin- 
ning. It was evident they were going to drop something for 
us. Wirkus knew we’d probably be at Osmann’s on Sun- 
day ; so they’d headed here instead of for Derniere Marque. 
Sure enough, down rocketed a bag, and after circling again 
to make sure they hadn’t knocked somebody’s brains out 

See fape 24 

“When the combat begins the 
two owners remain in the ring.” 



with it, they waved and soared away. The bag had a tag on 
it, addressed to Constant Polynice, and I could see him 
swell as he opened it, while we all crowded round. There 
was a letter in it for me, from Colonel Myers, concerning 
the date on which I should hold myself ready down yonder 
for flight back to the mainland — but that, to Polynice and 
all the rest of them, was a trivial detail. The bag was ad- 
dressed to Polynice. Furthermore it contained a tin box 
of French bonbons for Julie. Remember that all these peo- 
ple, including prosperous Polynice himself, were mountain 
peasants. And that an airplane — a great army airplane from 
Port-au-Prince — which came flying far across the bay to 
bring a bag for Polynice and a box of candy for his wife, 
was a tremendous event. Polynice swelled, not only in his 
own eyes, but in the eyes of all the crowd, to Napoleonic 
porportions. I have told you that he — and I — were both 
already thinking highly of ourselves, and now vain pride 
took complete possession of us like the plague. I somewhat 
blame what later happened to us on the coming of that air- 
plane, for if Constant hadn’t been so totally blinded by 
vanity and self-assurance, he’d have surely smelt a large 
rat presently. 

And so, that afternoon, we undertook to round out the 
day by ‘"taking” Osmann and his Cuban zinga. “I have been 
thinking,” said Constant to Osmann as one fond, trusting 
brother to another, “that Tribunal here and your new zinga 
might make an interesting combination. . . .” “They 
might,” said Osmann, “but your Tribunal is a bad bird, 
and I don’t want my zinga to be killed. Still, if it went that 
badly I could take him out of the ring.” 

“Surely,” agreed Polynice, “it would be for the sport; 
it isn’t the sort of thing on which we would want to wager 
heavily. . . 

Looking back, it is easy enough to see what a pair of 
blind bats we were. At the very beginning of it when we 
squatted outside the ring with the two tethered birds, letting 



them fly at one another tentatively, verifying them, as the 
saying is — I saw Constant nonchalantly running his finger- 
tips over the scar on the zingd s neck, and Osmann closely 
examining Tribunal’s familiar queer-shaped comb, to make 
doubly sure there was no trickery of that sort. But we might 
have noticed, if we had been watching the crowd, that some- 
thing was in the wind, for instead of pressing close and 
shouting comments, they hung back, quiet. 

When Osmann adroitly pushed up the limit of our initial 
bet from three hundred gourdes to five hundred, we thought 
it was as good as in our pockets, and when Louira came to 
me offering a side bet of another hundred, we figured it was 
simply because the zinga had beaten his own best bird and 
that it was natural for him to over-estimate its ability. 

As we filed the spurs — it is not permitted to withdraw 
from a match once the filing begins — the crowd came to life, 
hysterically shouting and waving its side bets, and we heard 
an insistent chorus of “Two gourdes on the zingaP’ “Five 
gourdes on the zinga P’ with scarcely anywhere a shout for 
the black. We put it down merely to the crowd’s bad judg- 
ment, and began taking the little bets ourselves. When they 
discovered that we were covering the small side bets too, 
even the women and girls crowded in, laughing, with their 
pennies. We were busy as a couple of shell-game slickers 
at a country fair. 

The battle began well. Both birds were keen and sailed 
in with their spurs, attacking, ducking, now over, now 
under, neither showing much advantage. Barring an acci- 
dental spur-thrust, they would presently tire of those spec- 
tacular tactics and begin fighting seriously with their beaks. 
It was thus that this zinga had fought a week before, beat- 
ing Louira’s bird which fought in the same way, and we 
knew that when the slow, vicious beaking began, our little 
black killer would come into his own. You see, it is prac- 
tically impossible to kill with a single stroke of the beak. 
It is a slow, wicked business, at which the most evil and 



persistent bird almost inevitably wins. And we knew 
Tribunal from of old. We knew that once settled down to 
beak lighting, he had one single object, and that what hap- 
pened to his own bloody head meanwhile was of no con- 

Presently, just as we had anticipated, Tribunal aban- 
doned the spectacular spur fighting to go after the zinga 
with his beak. And it was here that everything began to go 
mysteriously wrong. That zinga, incredibly, for we had seen 
it light before, refused to beak. Contrary to all precedent, 
and contrary apparently also to the laws of its own nature 
which Constant had studied so intelligently, it continued 
lighting with its spurs! Tribunal had definitely ceased hurl- 
ing himself through the air, and was now dodging about 
flat-footed, ducking it when he could to administer a vicious 
peck on the zingd s head. But the zinga was not standing 
flat-footed like an honest bird and swapping pecks that day. 
Contrary to all rules of honor and decency in a Haitian 
gaguerre, it was turning tail and running, but propelling 
itself in a sort of short half-circle like a fighting plane doing 
the Immermann, to leap through the air, over and over 
again, with spurs uplifted for a knockout kill. Apparently 
the zinga didn’t know it had a beak or thought that beaks 
were simply for picking up corn. And instead of being tired, 
it had just begun to fight ! 

And now the crowd, which had been nervously intent and 
more or less silent as if waiting for something, began to 
howl joyously. It began to howl with joyous conviction, 
“Ca y estl Ouil <^a y estF' which meant, “The thing has 
arrived! Yes, it has arrived!” 

Constant was frantic. He didn’t know yet what this pre- 
cise thing was that had “arrived,” and neither of course, 
did I, but we knew that unless a miracle happened, Osmann 
had cooked a couple of geese named Polynice and his white. 
Constant leaped about the ring like a madman, shrieking 
at Tribunal, kneeling to pound the earth behind Tribunal 



as if to catapult him into the air by percussion, but it was 
no use. 

We were too excited, watching the fight and hoping 
against hope, to give any immediate attention to Osmann. 
I remember vaguely that he had been squatting quiet in a 
corner of the ring, sardonically stroking his chin, enjoying 
Polynice’s leaps and screams; and then I didn’t notice him 
any more. 

The battle ended suddenly, as it was bound to, with a 
clean spur-thrust that killed Tribunal in his tracks. Poly- 
nice, panting and exhausted, stood sadly. Together he and 
I stood there, looking down at the zinga^ which crowed 
lustily and flapped its wings in the middle of the ring. We 
stood looking down at the triumphant cock and wonder- 
ing. . . . 

Somebody nudged us to turn, and there stood Osmann, 
and Osmann standing there behind us had the zinga in his 
arms ! It hadn’t flown over our heads, either. There it was 
still strutting in the ring, and here it was tucked under 
Osmann’s elbow. Having violated all precedents of a Hai- 
tian cockfight, it was now violating the laws of Nature by 
being in two different places at the same time. 

“By the way,” said Osmann gently, as one fond, trusting 
brother to another, “did I mention the fact that I had 
bought two zingas in Saint Marc?” 

'‘Foutrel” said Polynice, which is not a pretty word. 







Chapter VI 

THE “danse Congo” 

To please me, since I was interested in such matters, Con- 
stant gave a danse Congo. He and Julie did not participate 
in these dances, but once or twice a year he invited the 
mountainside to a big ba?nboc}ie., and now while I was there 
visiting him, he said, was a “happy time” to do it. 

The Congo dances, African in origin, but without a par- 
allel among the negroes in the United States, are danced to 
the accompaniment of tom-tom work-drums, rattles, and 
shrill singing. They are the universal Saturday night diver- 
sion of the peasants both in the mountains and the plain. 
They are lawful, in no way connected with Voodoo, quite 
easy to see, and nearly all writers visiting Haiti have seen 
and written about them. 

They are, of course, sexual dances. But there is no danc- 
ing in couples, no waists encircled by arms, no interlacing. 
The dancers move their feet in a sort of loose-limbed jig- 
ging, but most of the rhythm is with their bodies. It is some- 
what like Oriental dancing, but has a special quality of its 
own. All the phases and variations of the sexual act, includ- 
ing orgasm, are reproduced. With the incessant rhythm of 
the tom-toms and copious drinking of rum, these festivals 
often become slightly orgiastic, and travelers have some- 
times imagined they were witnessing Voodoo dances. But 
the Congo is simply a wild frolic. It is the night club of the 

I had seen such dances numbers of times — every one in 
Haiti has — and they have been described so frequently and 
so well, as a spectacle, that I should hesitate to include a 




description here except for a special reason. Always when 
dancing, they sing, and the words of these songs seem to 
determine variations of the dance. I had sometimes been 
able to catch snatches of these words, but unsatisfactorily. 
And intelligent people, Haitians or long-resident Americans 
whom I had asked for enlightenment, had said, “Oh, it’s 
nothing, it’s just doggerel . . . anything. . . . They make 
it up as they go.” So I asked Polynice to give the danse 
Congo, and help me, if he would, to collect some of these 
songs with their meaning. 

By dark, the crowd was thick round the peristyle, which 
had been decorated with flowers and torches. Clairin and 
cakes were circulating in abundance. The dancing space was 
kept clear. The drums began, and a lone male figure leaped 
into the open space before them. He had been chosen as 
maif la danse. He was a muscular young buck of medium 
height, slender-waisted, with broad shoulders, barefooted, 
in loose cotton trousers, tight-belted, with black negroid fea- 
tures, bullet head, close-cropped. He hurled himself into the 
air like an amateur Nijinsky, gyrated, came to a statuesque 
pause, all in rhythm to the tom-toms, then marched thrice 
around the pole, prancing like a splendid animal, and then 
standing flat-footed, with no subsequent movement of the 
feet, began a series of slov/, rhythmic motions of the sort 
usually associated only with female solo dancers. It had 
seemed to me queer, almost unnatural at first, in Haiti to 
see a male body exhibiting itself proudly in this peacock 
sex-strutting and these sexual muscular contortions, but 
that, I think, was only a limitation of my own, due to fixed- 
idea associations. There was nothing effeminate or lascivi- 
ous about it. It was virile and graceful. Men are sexual 
animals as well as women. But among civilized people there 
is a curious male shame about it that women do not share. 
Gilda Gray, for instance, is applauded and respected as an 
artist by the most refined audiences. Her dances are “aes- 
thetic.” And so they are in reality. But if a male dancer 



attempted to put on a masculine variation of her act the 
same audience would be disgusted. There is something bred 
deep in our civilization that causes this. It doesn’t make 
sense, but it’s there. I should like, above all things, to have 
the power of rational detachment in the face of unfamiliar 
phenomena, and I had seen this sort of dancing before; but 
as I watched this man it again affected me unpleasantly for 
a moment. I felt ashamed for him, and ashamed of myself 
for feeling ashamed. A he-lion or a peacock or a barnyard 
rooster may strut his sex proudly and publicly before his 
females. So also do savages. But civilized men mustn’t do 
it. Only females may strut their sex publicly and adorn 
themselves for sex in the civilized human world. It doesn’t 
make sense, but thus it is. 

The mistress of the dance, designated as the chacha be- 
cause of the rattle she carries, was now beckoned into the 
hollow square, and danced sinuously around the man, un- 
dulating and weaving, her face uplifted, her chin held high, 
her eyes half closed. Then standing before him, she began 
a dance in rhythm with his, approaching until their bodies 
almost touched, not quite touching, then retreating. 

As these two danced, every one began to sing: 

Pitot ou gagnin homme. 

La caille ou; 

Passer maman ou. 

Out, ti fif 

(Better that you should have a man in your house than that you 
should live with your mamma. Yes, young maiden.) 

This they repeated for ten minutes or more, others gradu- 
ally joining the dance until the space was crowded. They 
stopped for a brief moment, the drums began a new rhythm, 
and the men, each advancing on the girl who danced before 
him, and motioning her to go away, to leave him, sang in 
chorus : 



Garder en has gaillard; 

Ou oue tune bout de couteau: 

Ou oue iune tele poisson; 

Ou oue iune bon borri. 

Trends yo — porter — 

Bai moins. 

(Go and search at the foot of the gaillard tree; you will find a 
knife-blade, a fish’s head, and a fine casava cake. Take them — bring 
them — and give them to me.) 

To this the women chanted in counter-chorus: 

Oui, moins p' r allerJ 

Oui, moins bai ou tout! 

Moins bai ou manger. 

(Yes, I will do your bidding! Everything you ask! Yes, I will 
provide you food !) 

Polynice helped me with the exact wording of these 
songs, and when they were obscure explained their mean- 
ing. I would listen for a while, jotting down notes with a 
pencil. It was difficult because so many were singing, and 
after the refrain and new words were well started, many 
would yell or lilt the tune with mouths wide open, while 
others would keep repeating perhaps just two words, like 
tnoins! Oui^ moins! Oui., moinsr ’ — weaving these 
variations into the melody. After listening for a while to 
one of the songs and jotting down what words I could, I 
would touch Polynice on the arm and we would go into his 
house, where the noise was less deafening and where we 
had a lamp and table. Even there he had to shout into my 
ear the corrections, the meaning of words I didn’t know. 
And this finally became a routine. Each time a new song 
began, Polynice would cock his head to one side, listening. 
Then if the words were difficult, he would go over to one 
man or woman, poke his face within three or four inches 



of the singer’s, and listen attentively to the one voice, at the 
same time watching the movement of the mouth and lips. 
Without his help much of it would have escaped me. 

There was one song, for instance, in which the men danc- 
ing staggered as if ill or wounded, holding their hands in 
front of their faces while they sang: 

Oue yo m' p'r aller, 

Fais maladie cinq mois. 

Si m’ tombe, m pas leve, 

Connais c est iune madichon femme 
Qui tue mains. 

(When they see me dragging myself away, sick for five months, 
if I fall, and do not rise again, they will know that curse of woman 
has caused my death.) 

Madichon femme did not mean the curse or spell of a 
sorceress; it meant simply the fatal lure of the female. 

As the men sang this, pretending to lament in deep- 
throated chorus, the women sang in shrill, piercing, menac- 
ing tones like a band of furies, “Coiyou! Coiyoul CoiyouF' 

I said, inside the house, “What does it mean, Polynice, 
this 'Coiyoa! It wasn’t French or creole. He replied 
promptly, “It means if you give yourself up to a woman as 
much as she wants, she will kill you, wear you out.” I said, 
“How can one word mean all that?” He said, “I don’t 
know, but that’s exactly what it means. It means that she 
will drain you dry, devour you.” I subsequently learned 
that coiyou is an old Guinea word meaning literally the 
vulva of a female in heat. 

The women were taunting the youths, at the same time 
seeking to inflame and frighten them, proclaiming their 
elemental, dangerous power as from some old African jungle 
fertility rite. 

Contrasting with that atavistic echo came presently this 
na'ive banality: 



Parole Ballon fais moins plaist ; 

Neg la morne pas pe fais 
Cou li ac nous. 

(The words of Ballon give me pleasure; the negroes of the moun- 
tain are not to be trusted like him.) 

There had been a man down in the plain by the name of 
Ballon, now dead, noted for his honesty, and the mountain 
blacks had made this song in his memory. 

The juxtaposition was interesting because it is not easy 
to understand the Haitian peasants without taking into 
account this essential duality in their characters. 

The various melodies and harmonies to which these words 
were adapted are difficult to describe, since I am handi- 
capped by lack of technical musical knowledge. Neither the 
melodies nor the harmony generally had any of the under- 
currents of sadness common to the American negro folk 
songs, spirituals, and blues. These blacks were savage, 
free, exultant, and their music reflected this. Nor was there 
any quality in the tempo similar to jazz. The rhythms were 
frequently tangled, complicated, but the complication was 
always unsyncopated, against a steady four-four beat. In 
this respect only it was akin to the Voodoo ceremonial chant- 
ing. There were songs in which the counterpoint was woven 
almost like that of the Magic Flute overture; there were 
also songs in which there was a rapid patter against the 
heavy choral background, as when one young man in a shrill 
but musical falsetto, that pierced and rose and soared like 
the melody on a piccolo, sang prestissimo: 

Yi ... yi ... yi .. . yi! Yi . . . yi . . . Y ad! 

Yi ... yi ... yi .. . yi! Yi ... yi .. . Y ad! 

It was interesting, meanwhile, to see some girl, off in the 
shadows, outside the edge of the crowd, unnoticed, un-self- 
conscious, dancing all alone with scarcely any movement 
of the feet, in an endless, effortless swaying of the hips and 



buttocks; it seemed to depersonalize her; it was like the 
surf or like some cosmic perpetual motion expressing itself 
through her body. 

Another song of the women was : 

Au lieu ou bai m coup na tout corps moins, 

Pitot ou bai vi bon coup nd vent' moms. 

(Instead of beating me all over the body with a stick, a well- 
directed blow in the belly would be preferable.) 

This they sang serious and unsmiling, but some of the 
songs had a humorous implication : 

Emanuel, ga ou gagnin ou a pe crier? 

’Ti la pas petit maman ou, ni petit papa ou. 

Emanuel, ga ou gagnin ou a pe crier? 

(Emanuel, what need have you for crying*? The baby is not your 
mother’s and not your father’s. Emanuel, what need have you for 
crying ?) 

Polynice explained that it was a joke about a man down 
at Pointe-a-Racquette named Emanuel Tradeau. He had 
brought home a girl who gave birth to a baby that was not 
his. He had made a great fuss about it, and his mother and 
father, who liked the girl and thought Emanuel was a fool, 
were taking care of the baby. 

They also had a song of Polynice, with words which 
seemed slightly incongruous, since it was he who was giving 
the dance and supplying them generously with refreshment : 

Polynice comptrolleur! 

Li marcher ch’wal blanc la nuit; 

Nous bai ou coup de roche; 

Malheur river ou. 

(Polynice is the tax collector. He comes riding at night on his 
white horse to rob us ; we will drive him away with stones, and a 
misfortune will happen to him.) 



But it was friendly, without malice, and Polynice ac- 
cepted it without malice, smiling his shrewd, deprecating 
little smile. Doubtless he would have felt hurt and neg- 
lected if they hadn’t sung it. 

On the Monday following this hamboche I bade Poly- 
nice farewell, descended to the coast, where I expressed as 
best I could my gratitude to Wirkus, fished with him for a 
couple of days, and then the plane came to take me back 
to the mainland. 

Chapter VII 

“no white man could be as dumb as that” 

“No white man,” said Cumberland, disgusted yet trium- 
phant, “could be as dumb as that.” 

He seemed to have the best of the argument. 

He had said it to Barker, Barnes, me, and an ass named 
Mabry as we sat round a campfire wrapped in our blankets 
like Spaniards, forty-five hundred feet above sea-level, on 
a mountain-circled plateau behind the Morne Rouis range. 

This Cumberland — Dr. W. W. Cumberland — perhaps 
there is some such degree as Doctor of Decimals — was one 
of the five American high treaty officials in Haiti. Finan- 
cial Adviser was his title, and he exercised absolute control 
over government financial matters. He was as honest as an 
adding-machine and keenly intelligent, but people said he 
had no bowels, meaning it in the scriptural rather than slang 
sense. He was as cold as ice and was obsessed with the 
conviction that the emotional Haitians, whether high or 
low, were lazy, undependable as apes, and equally limited 
in their foresight and mental processes. Yet there was a 
good deal paradoxically likable in Cumberland. He stood 
ragging, he was a square shooter, and on a trip like this he 
always did a little more than his share of the camp work. 
The fact that he would come along at all on such trips, 
which meant rough going on muleback and afoot, was a part 
of his paradoxical likableness. Cumberland is a hard man to 
depict. He was cold without being selfish or aloof. He was 
prejudiced, yet full of an active curiosity. 

It was he, for instance, who had been the prime mover in 

this present excursion. Hayne Boyden, flyer, who was mak- 




ing aerial photographic maps for the Marine Corps, had re- 
turned one day, greatly excited, from a flight over this 
mountain plateau, declaring that he had discovered enor- 
mous ruins of French chateaux with great paved sunken 
gardens, circular fountains. He supposed them to be the 
summer pleasure homes of rich sixteenth-century colonials. 
There are many such modernly unexplored fastnesses in the 
Flaitian mountains. 

When his pictures were developed, he took them to Ash 
Pay Davis, who is an authority on Haitian archaeology and 
history. Ash Pay said, “I don’t think these are chateaux, but 
I think they are something just as interesting; I think they 
are big colonial colfee plantations; I think your immense 
walls are slave barracks, your sunken gardens drying-floors, 
your circular fountains decorticators, around v/hich horses 
revolved, crushing off the hulls. Moreau de Saint Mery 
(the one source historian on colonial times) mentions that 
the mountains behind Saint Marc were a great coffee dis- 
trict.” But Boyden held out for the chateau idea; it seemed 
to him more romantic. 

Boyden hadn’t been able to land, and aviators are no- 
toriously averse to muleback ; so we others had come explor- 
ing to see what it was all about. Cumberland had dug up 
some ancient colonial statistics telling how many thousand 
sacks of coffee came down from Morne Rouis in 1769. We 
had motored to Saint Marc, picked up Mabry and our 
mounts there, and learned what we could about the trails 
from peasants. Boyden had also given us the general lay of 
the land. VvT had found the ruins without much difficulty, 
had found also a small, straggling peasant settlement, and 
on its edge we were now encamped. 

That afternoon, we had explored a number of the ruins 
and verified the fact that they were big coffee estates gone 
to wrack through the centuries, wrecked, burned, partially 
torn down probably by the revolting slaves. Cumberland 
had become eloquent, enlarging on his favorite theme. When 


white men controlled this plateau it had yielded an enor- 
mous harvest; now a few straggling peasants, its only popu- 
lation, picked lackadaisically the little coffee that was left 
growing wild on bushes and carried their few bags down to 
Saint Marc once a year, just enough to keep them from 
abject poverty, he said, dead to all ambition and progress. 
Cumberland, of course, didn’t defend slavery, but he 
thought negroes were never much good except when directed 
by whites. Barker, who w'as a field botanist, often following 
the long trails alone, a bit of a philosopher, and who liked 
the peasants, had taken up the cudgels for them. He had 
pointed out that they seemed a singularly happy people, 
care-free, toil-free, that perhaps they were living more 
nearly what Bertrand Russell called “the good life” than 
large groups of white “peasants” he knew, laboring in fac- 
tories or on intensively cultivated farms, etc., etc. The dis- 
pute, like all such disputes, had been inconclusive. 

And now, around the campfire, Cumberland had started 
it again. This time it was about water. Reaching the vil- 
lage — peasants lower down had assured us we would find a 
spring there — we had asked where the spring was. “It’s no 
longer any good,” they told us; “we bring our water up 
from below.” It seemed that an avalasse, a little landslide, 
had choked up their spring two years before, and that in- 
stead of bothering to dig it out, they had been toting their 
water six miles up the mountain ever since. 

“And there you are,” said Cumberland. “How does that 
fit into your argument? Good life, bosh ! I tell you they are 
just plain dumb. They trudge six miles and back, because 
it’s easier for the moment. They can’t look ahead. I tell you^ 
no white man could he as dumb as that” 

Going back next day, we reached Saint Marc around 
midnight, after having been in the saddle, and part of the 
time afoot, since before dawn. We were tired, sleepy, and 
there were engagements that made it imperative to be back 
in Port-au-Prince by morning. We found the car in Mabry’s 



yard, where we had left it, and climbed wearily in. While 
we were still in the outskirts of the town, leaving it with 
Cumberland taking his turn first at the wheel and the rest 
of us hunching down to sleep. Barker, who was in the back 
with me, aroused himself sufficiently to say drowsily, ‘T 
suppose we’ve got gas enough, eh, Cumberland*?” And Cum- 
berland replied indifferently, “Oh, there must be plenty; it 
was full when we started.” A minute or so later. Barker 
aroused himself just a bare shade more and said, “There’s 
a garage back there that stays open all night; maybe we’d 
better stop and make sure.” Barnes and I said something, I 
don’t remember what. And on we went. . . . 

The car standing stock-still awakened me. I thought we 
had arrived home, but all around was blackness, except for 
our headlights streaming down an endless, bare road. The 
others had already got out. The tank was dry, and we were 
miles from anywhere. To be more accurate, we were on the 
edge of a malarial, mosquito-infested swamp, midway be- 
tween the village of Larcahaie and Source Puante, the Stink- 
ing Spring. There was no gas in Larcahaie, but Barker 
thought he knew a habitation beyond the spring where a 
man had a gas-driven cane crusher. He remarked that he 
thought it was just about six miles. He looked at Cumber- 
land when he said six. Barker said he’d go, since he knew 
the way, and that we could match coins to see which one 
of us three should accompany him. But Cumberland 
wouldn’t agree to that. It was his car. He would take his 
medicine. So he and Barker footed it up the road, while 
Barnes and I spread a blanket in the ditch and covered 
ourselves, heads and all, with another blanket to keep off 
the mosquitoes. It was stifling, but we dozed, or at least I 
did, until, after an infinitely long time, we were aroused by 
a halloo, and there in the gray dawn, footsore and lagging, 
down the long road came Barker and Cumberland — Dr. W. 
W. Cumberland, high treaty official and one of the five 
wise white rulers of Haiti’s destiny — ^j^lodding along like 


any barefoot peasant, toting a five-gallon tin on his shoul- 

We eased it down for him. Barker said, “Yes, I guess it 
was just about six miles.” But he couldn’t let it rest there. 
He had to rub it in. He had to add, with a grin, “No white 
man could be as dumb as that, eh, Cumberland?” 

We liked Cumberland, but we had no mercy on him. We 
all told it the next day at the club ; I told it later to Chauvet, 
who roared with belly-laughter ; and it will probably be re- 
membered in Haiti when the millions of dollars a year 
which Cumberland sweated to save them are forgotten. 

All this proved nothing in rebuttal of Cumberland’s con- 
tention that the Haitians were short-sighted, lazy, and 
dumb — it was a sort of a tu quoque, a sort of “You are 
wrong, O Socrates, because your own nose is snotty” — but 
when I related the story to Chauvet, it set him off on a strin" 
of anecdotes concerning the guile and resourcefulness of 
these peasants. The ones I best recall were connected with 
the rise in the world of a foxy fellow named Theot Brun. 

Theot at twenty, ragged, barefoot, and without a copper, 
wanted a bottle of clairin, which is colorless, like moon- 
shine corn whiskey. He found an empty bottle, half filled it 
with water, and approached a woman who sat retailing her 
wares, dried herring, little bundles of tobacco leaves, food 
and drink, beneath a roadside booth. “Replenish my bottle,” 
he ordered, and she filled it, unsuspecting, from her jug. 
“Thirty cobs” (six cents), she told him. 

“Thief! Criminelled’ he cried in a passion. “Never!” 

“What would you pay?” 

“I will not trade with robbers. Take back your clairin, 
pour it out.” 

And with his bottle still half-filled, but now with rum 
and water mixed, he played the trick successively at other 
roadside booths until the pure water he had started with 
was transformed into pure rum. 

At thirty, Theot moved to Port-au-Prince, where he ac- 



quired a house and family; but he still had no money and 
wanted a pair of shoes. He sent a child to a neighborhood 
merchant, saying, '‘Theot has rheumatism. Send one shoe, 
size thus, for Theot to try on, and if it fits, I will return 
with the money and get the other shoe.” There seemed no 
sense in Theot’s trying to cheat him out of one shoe; so 
the merchant acquiesced. But Theot sent the child with the 
same tale to another merchant, and Theot rejoiced in a 
pair of shoes which had cost him nothing. 

At forty, Theot, who had risen considerably in the world, 
had begun to dabble in politics. His shrewdness and trick- 
ery made him valuable to men higher up. He decided pri- 
vately that the time had come for him to go higher up 
himself. There were some senatorial vacancies to be filled 
by senatorial ballot. For Theot to aspire to a senatorship 
was quite absurd, but this is what he did: He went confiden- 
tially to one senator and said, “I have a little favor to ask 
you which can do nobody any harm. On the first balloting 
for such and such a vacancy, I want you to vote for me, so 
that v/hen the minutes are published in the newspaper re- 
ports, Theot’s name will appear written in that honorable 
company; it will make my wife so proud and happy, and it 
will increase my prestige with all my neighbors. They will 
say, ‘So, this Theot is getting to be a man of importance !’ 
and it will not do anybody any harm. You can vote after- 
ward for your serious candidate, of course. It is just a little 
confidential favor you can do me, my vanity perhaps, and 
no one need ever know who did it. Neither of us need men- 
tion it to a soul. But I do want just that one vote.” He 
confided his harmless wish, “in confidence,” to other sena- 
tors, who must have been subsequently somewhat aston- 
ished when they discovered that they had elected Theot 
senator almost without a dissenting vote. 

The finest example of peasant shrewdness that ever came 
within my own personal knowledge in Haiti, though guile- 


ful as these tricks of Theot, had a quite different sort of 

Dr. Robert Parsons, Lieutenant Commander, U.S.N., 
detached to Haiti for special medical duty, was the best 
rural clinic man in the whole outfit. He was chief urologist 
in the Hopital General, but he was never so happy as out on 
the trails. He had been asked to investigate the rumor that 
there was an epidemic from which children were dying at 
Cornillon, in Grand Bois, in the high mountains near the 
Dominican border. It v/as a district so difficult of access that 
the Haitian lieutenant of gendarmerie stationed there re- 
ported to Port-au-Prince only four times a year. An old man 
had come down from the mountains, saying that several 
children had died the week before, begging the good Ameri- 
cans to send up and help them. Other corroborating rumors 
had filtered down until Dr. Butler, chief of the service, be- 
came convinced that something was wrong up there. He 
recalled also that the people of Cornillon, some months be- 
fore, had sent a petition for the establishment of a dispen- 
sary in their district, and he blamed himself somewhat for 
having pigeon-holed it in the press of more urgent matters. 

Parsons asked me if I cared to come along. He told me 
that the district was said to be very wild and beautiful. We 
motored across the Cul-de-Sac to Thomazeau, which is a 
gendarme post beyond the big inland salt lake of Saumatre, 
where the road ended; got ponies there, traversed a flat, 
thorny desert of hahonde and giant cactus to the foot of the 
mountains, and then began to climb. At first the trail went 
up barren slopes, but soon it began to thread through mag- 
nificent thick primaeval jungle valleys, with palms, giant 
ferns, and orchids. The huge 7uapou trees, with trunks five 
and six feet in diameter at the base, which when seen in 
more open woodland had a smooth gray bark, were here 
covered, as the sablier is, with thick-studded spikes like 
those on a savage Indian’s war-club, to protect themselves 
from the strangling lianas and vines. Yet many of these 



jungle giants were being strangled despite their armor, vic- 
tims of an almost equally gigantic parasitic creature called 
the iigier-maudit (accursed fig tree). The seed of the figier- 
maud'it lodges in a tiny cleft of the mapou bark and begins 
to grow both upward and downward, as a sort of vine. In 
the course of years its branches, curving like thick serpents, 
embrace the mighty trunk in a crushing grip. Meantime the 
figier sends its own roots down into the ground, and pres- 
ently the ?napou becomes a dead, rotting trunk, literally 
strangled to death. Lianas, parasitic vines, cactus trees, 
monstrous yet beautiful growths, were here murdering each 
other, like men and animals, for the survival of the fittest. 

I'hrough these our trail wound. Late in the afternoon, on 
bare rocky slopes, this trail, scarcely more than a foot wide, 
was worn sometimes eighteen inches deep in the solid lime- 
stone. It presently passed between high mountains through 
a sharp divide. This foot-wide trail was the only egress for 
the Cornillon plateau valley and had been worn deep in the 
living rock by two centuries of barefoot peasants and the 
hoofs of their unshod donkeys. 

The Cornillon valley, though isolated, was fertile and 
thickly inhabited. Water abounded, and it was diversely 
wooded. Hardy banana trees and plantains, palms, too, 
here some thousands of feet above their normal habitat, 
grew side by side with northern pines and clover. The top 
of the divide is more than five thousand feet in altitude, and 
we judged the valley to lie about four thousand. 

The village of Cornillon, which we reached before dark, 
was pretty, and seemed prosperous. There were perhaps a 
Imndred houses, with vegetable gardens, and a few with 
little flower gardens. We dismounted at the gendarme post, 
v/hich seemed deserted. Behind it we found one black cor- 
poral playing cards with a private. Lie was glad to see us, 
took charge of our horses, brought us water, and asked why 
we had come. A small crowd had by this time also gathered. 

“I am the doctor,” said Parsons, who spoke creole famil- 


iarly. “Fve come to see about the sickness, about the chil- 
dren who are dying.” 

“Oh,” said the corporal — but that was all he said. 

“Yes,” said Parsons. “Have there been any more 

“Pas connais” said the corporal. 

We asked others in the crowd. None of them seemed to 
know anything about any epidemic. One woman said her 
child had worms and would the kind doctor look at it to- 
morrow, another’s grandmother had fever, and a third her- 
self was suffering from biske tombe, a misery in her 
tripes — but nobody seemed to know anything about an in- 
fant epidemic. Parsons kept insisting. One man remembered 
hopefully that a child had died in Saint Pierre the month 

“This is a damned funny business,” said Parsons to me. 
“Do you suppose they’re afraid of us?” But they weren’t 
the least bit afraid of us. They were as amiable and friendly 
as peasants could be. Yet there were side-glances not in- 
tended for our eyes, a whisper here and there. They were 
hiding something just the same. But they were pleased to 
see us. We were puzzled. 

The black lieutenant, we had learned, was off at Saint 
Pierre. He wouldn’t return for two days. Parsons mean- 
while had sent some one to find the justice of the peace, the 
only other official person in the village. The messenger re- 
turned, saying that the juge was away too, but he’d be back 
this same night. It was now getting dark, and we were 
hungry. We also had to arrange about a place for the night. 
“I guess we’ll have to wait until morning to get to the bot- 
tom of this,” said Parsons. 

The corporal got a hatchet and broke open the back door 
of the lieutenant’s house, helped install us, brought water 
and a bottle of rum, found a woman to cook for us, pro- 
cured a chicken, eggs, and plantain. “I don’t know why 
we’re here,” said Parsons, “but this is all right.” 



The corporal had said they were going to get up a dance ■ 
in our honor. They had already sent for the fiddler. A fiddle ( 
was something new to us. Parsons didn’t recollect ever hav- j 
ing seen one at a Haitian mountain bamboche. We guessed 1 
it v/as the Spanish influence of the near-by Dominican bor- I 

Toward nine o’clock we strolled over to the gendarmerie. 
The prisoners had come in, some nine of them, in convict 
stripes, with four guards. They had been laying the cement 
foundation for a new gendarmerie building. The wooden 
door of the jail was open, and the gendarmes were inside, 
fraternizing, gossiping with the prisoners. There was a dis- 
pute going on between one of the gendarmes and a prisoner. 
The gendarme was shouting, “Three !” and the prisoner was 
shaking his head and repeating, “Two.” They glanced from 
time to time at a sack of cement in a corner. Presently they 
came to an agreement; the prisoner shouldered the heavy 
sack and disappeared, unfollowed. He had snitched the 
cement from the job, and the argument was whether he 
should pay his friend the gendarme two gourdes or three ^ 
for the privilege. 

When the fiddler arrived, the prisoners came out and 
danced too. One of them was drummer. We offered to con- 
tribute a jug of clairin. A gendarme turned over the money 
to one of the prisoners, who rambled off by himself to get it. 
The women hadn’t come yet. It was like a stage comedy, to 
see the prisoners in convict stripes doing fandangos and 
round dances with the uniformed gendarmes. When the 
girls and women came, they danced with the striped pris- 
®ners and khaki gendarmes, and the clairin tin cup passed 
from hand to hand. It was like a vaudeville act. It was also 
like a millennium. What was a prisoner? What was a 
gendarme? This was a nice valley. Maybe it was a good 
thing that only one hard, narrow trail led up to it. Parsons 
and I were glad we had come. It seemed to us a better place 


than Port-au-Prince. We had also drunk out of the jug. 
Maybe they were just playing at being gendarmes and 
prisoners. This was a nice valley. We assured each other 
happily that no motor road could ever be built up here — 
not for years anyway. Parsons was different from Cumber- 

Next morning, while we were having coffee, the old juge 
de paix came to see us. We gave him some. He talked about 
all sorts of things, entertained us. I thought he seemed to 
be studying Parsons. Presently Parsons said, “Now about 
this epidemic? Where are all these dead babies? What’s 
the matter up here? Nobody seems to know anything about 

The old man lifted his hands as if to say, “Be patient, 
sir, please.” He seemed to have some difficulty in coming 
to the point. 

“I myself was down in Port-au-Prince a year ago,” he 
said. “I was a committee. I left papers, written out in 
French, at the hospital, in an office. And then in Januar}^ 
we had another paper written out for us in your language. 
And also there were others who were permitted to see and 
talk with the doctor-chief. But nothing came of it. . . .” 

“Nothing came of what?” Dr. Parsons interrupted. 
“What are you talking about? What’s this got to do with 
an infant epidemic?” 

“Well, you see, sir, we are five thousand people up here 
in this district, and among so many there is bound to be 
some sickness. There are no doctors, and there isn’t any 
medicine, and it is a hard trail over the mountain, as you 
know. We are prosperous, there is coffee here, and we would 
willingly pay the expense of an interne or nurse, Haitian 
naturally, if once in your goodness a dispensary were estab- 
lished. And then perhaps four times a year would come 
an American doctor. We thought if you came up to see, 
jou would readily understand the need and wisdom of 



this — but we were unable to get any one to eome and see. 
But now, in your goodness and thanks to the bon Dzeu, you 
have come.” 

‘‘Do you mean to tell me,” said Parsons, “that you de- 
liberately tricked the American Service d’Hygiene into 
sending me up here — that there isn’t any epidemic at all*?” 
“Oh, no, sir,” said the old judge, “not tricked. A child 
did die at Saint Pierre. . . .” 

“Come clean, now. Out with the whole story, and if you 
tell me the truth, maybe I will help you.” 

“I am telling you the truth,” said the old juge de paix. 
“We regarded the child’s death as providential, and agreed 
that all who went down yonder should tell about it. It 
became a number of children because a number of people 
told it, and soon they said in the market, ‘Children are dying 
in Grand Bois,’ so that word of it reached the ears of the 
Americans. . . . We have such faith in your goodness we 
felt sure that you would come. . . .” 

“My God,” said Parsons. 

I had a letter from him this summer. There was a post- 
script which read, “Grand Bois has its dispensary.” 

Chapter VIII 


Dr. Parsons and I were at Jacmel, Haiti’s southernmost 
seaport, on the Caribbean. We were in the gardens of the 
big new American hospital. Parsons had helped build it. 
It was his baby. He had come back to see how it had grown. 

In charge now was a newcomer, Dr. Saundus, over- 
efficient, with an unflattering opinion of tropical natives 
and a passion for regulating things. 

He came across the garden to us and said, “Look here, 
Parsons, is it a function of this hospital to harbor beach- 
combers? I went out on the back terrace a while ago and 
found a bum there calmly asleep as if he owned the place. 
I can’t make out whether he’s German or American. If he’s 
ill, I suppose we ought to take him in, but if he’s a plain 
down-and-outer it seems to me we’d better chuck him out.” 
Bob said, “All right, we’ll go and see.” 

Curled up in a corner in the shade, sleeping halfway on 
his belly like a dog, was a lean, unshaven, sandy-haired 
nondescript fellow with Haitian rope-soled shoes, no socks, 
clothes stained and shabby; tossed beside him was a bundle 
that seemed to contain old newspapers, a greasy cap, an old 
machete. The man was turning bald, had a little ragged, 
bristling mustache, and a week or ten days’ growth of 
scraggly yellow-gray beard. 

Parsons winked at me solemnly and said, “He does look 
all in, doesn’t he? I hate to wake him up.” 

“Well, I’ll wake him up,” said Dr. Saundus and prodded 
him with his foot. The man grunted and turned over. He 
finally opened his eyes, observed Dr. Saundus and me with 




a total lack of interest, and then spied Dr, Parsons, who 
had stepped back. 

“Veil, veil, veil !” he shouted and scrambled to his feet. 
“Vat you do here. Parsons'? This is goood ! I thought you in 
the north.” 

“And I thought you were in Santo Domingo,” said Par- 
sons — “but,” turning to Dr. Saundus and me, “I want you 
to meet my friend Dr. Eckman of the Royal Swedish Scien- 
tific Society, Fellow of the Smithsonian Institute. He 
happens to be the world’s leading authority on West Indian 

This was pie to Eckman, whose childish vanities and 
eccentricities proved to be even more remarkable than his 
attire. He beamed and strutted. I found him, when I got 
to know him better, the vainest and most cantankerous 
and at times most exasperating chap whose heels I have 
ever dogged. Each time I took the trail with him, I swore 
I’d never go again, and each new time he invited me, I 
gladly went. 

I had heard of Eckman before. He was one of the people 
Parsons had wanted me to meet. But he spent nearly all his 
time in the bush and among the mountains, cutting his way 
through jungles where neither black nor white had ever 
gone before. He had a room in Port-au-Prince, rent-free, 
which was like a littered dog-kennel, upstairs above the 
pharmacy of Dr. Bouc — a Haitian druggist who knew that 
Eckman was a great man — but he occupied it only the few 
weeks in the year when he was sorting out his specimens. 

He was totally indifferent to money — some of these 
things Parsons told me, and others I learned later for my- 
self — he had no means except a nominal fifty dollars a 
month ffom the Swedish Scientific Society. They had offered 
him more, but he had refused it impatiently, saying he 
couldn’t be bothered. He cared nothing for dressing de- 
cently; his aggressive vanity compensated itself in other 
directions. He loved insulting people. 



Dr. Paul Wilson, big chief of the Hopital General, who 
liked Eckman and gave him as good as he sent, tells how 
once, returning in his car from Trouin, he observed Eckman 
on the back of a borrowed donkey, ambling along, mildly 
spanking it with the flat of a huge machete. Eckman habit- 
ually scorned any means of locomotion except his own two 
feet, and Wilson hailed him: “Hello, Eckman, what’s this? 
You’re getting old.” 

“Bah,” said Eckman, “I sprained my ankle.” 

“Well, since you have to ride, why don’t you cut a 

This enraged Eckman, who spat out: “You and your 
svitch! You vould ruin me if you could, joost like that! 
You tell me today to get a svitch, ven any fool can see that 
this machete is joost as goood. Ten years I carry onl}^ my 
machete and a knapsack for my specimens, and they suffice 
me. Today I should get down and cut a little svitch to please 
you because you are a fool. And then vat? Tomorrow you 
vill tell me about microbes and make me load my shoulders 
vith tin cans of boiled vater vorse than a donkey and vith 
stinking potted meat, and then you vill have me in shiny 
leather leggings to make varicose my veins and vith a helmet 
maybe to make ache my head, and soon I vill be traveling 
vith pack animals and thermos bottles and arriving no- 
vhere, like the rest of you!” 

“Balls,” said Dr. Wilson. . . . “If your sprained ankle 
bothers you, phone me.” 

“Yah,” snorted Eckman, smiting his donkey, “and you 
vill cut it off !” 

The fashionable high-up American ladies, I am told, tried 
to be nice to Eckman, when they first came to Haiti. Eccen- 
tric scientists are sometimes interesting. They invited him 
to a tea. First he refused, then bought a celluloid collar, 
got himself shaved, and came. 

“Do tell us all about the wonderful tropical flowers! 
How fascinating it must be to be a botanist !” 



“Yah,” said Eckman, and then just sat and glared un- 

Then an individual charmer who fancied herself intel- 
lectual tried to draw him out. “You know, I studied botany 
at Bryn Mawr, and I am so awfully interested in flowers. 
I wonder. Dr. Eckman, if you would be so kind as to give 
me the names of some books concerning plant-life here.” 

“But, my dear voman,” said Eckman, “botany is a 
science. How vith your silly mind could you hope to under- 
stand vat is in those books? It is impossible.” 

The tea was not a success, and Eckman was let alone 

Eckman had no use for women. Parsons once asked him 
why he had never married. “Veil,” said Eckman, “I could 
only marry a botanist, and there are only six vimen botan- 
ists in the vorld. I have met them all, and they vere too 
ugly. There vas a Polish voman not so bad, but she is 

But Eckman sometimes liked men’s company, occasion- 
ally came to Parsons’ house and stayed talking long after 
midnight when Mrs. Parsons was away, and it was there 
that he agreed to take me along on the first trip I ever made 
with him. He promised to show me a manchineel tree, 
deadliest of all tropical poisons. It looked, he told me, like 
a stunted apple tree and had little red fruits like small 
crab-apples. Their juice was a violent caustic poison so 
deadly that a piece of the fruit no bigger than a small pea 
produced certain and painful death. Its resin was almost 
equally poisonous. When the colonial French first came to 
Haiti they had made every effort to stamp out this tree and 
partially succeeded. It was a dangerous weapon in the 
hands of the slaves. Eckman told us that he had personal 
knowledge of only about fifty trees left on the whole island, 
and that of these he didn’t believe more than a dozen could 
be known or accessible to the present witch-doctors and 
sorcerers. It sounded to me more than enough. Parsons re- 



called to us that this tree was the famous manzlnillo of 
Meyerbeer’s opera, V Africaine. The two lovers fleeing 
through the jungle go to sleep in each other’s arms beneath 
a 77ianzinillo tree. The dew falls through the branches, and 
in the morning they are found dead. “And that,” sniffed 
Eckman, “like every poetry, is a lie.” Then, disappointed 
when neither of us contradicted him, he said, “But it is not 
so much a lie as you ignorantly might think.” He told us 
of once cutting his way, tired and perspiring, through thick 
jungle growth. His shirt was open at the throat and torn. 
Suddenly he thought that stinging gnats had swarmed on 
his face and arms and shoulders. He had slashed the 
branches of a small manchineel tree, and tiny particles of 
the sap had touched his skin. It made little white burns, he 
said, like sulphuric acid, and left tiny sores which were 
days in healing. 

The first trip on which he let me accompany him was a 
three-day exploration up the Riviere Fourche, a little 
tributary of the Grande Riviere de Leogane. It came out of 
a jungle canyon which he believed was passable. He thought 
we might reach its unknown source. It was one of many 
mountain streams in Haiti which maps both old and new 
merely indicated with tadpole tails. After we had made 
some eight miles up the winding canyon, swimming a num- 
ber of pools between sheer cliffs and clambering up slippery 
cascades, we came to an impassable waterfall tight-closed 
between sheer walls. But even the eight miles was some- 
thing, and we brought back with us that small accurate 
material which was duly filed in the cartographic folios of 
Captain Freddie Cook’s Travaux Publiques. 

Along the trail reaching the canyon, Eckman had scolded 
and instructed me. Fle had insisted on my bringing nothing 
but a blanket roll and a quart canteen. He had promised to 
bring along what supplies we needed. It turned out they 
consisted of a box of matches and a small baking-powder 
box of tea and sugar mixed, which he boiled together. I 



was a tenderfoot, or so he regarded me, and he was breaking | 
me in. Sometimes he was pretty exasperating. He didn’t 
offer to pay the peasants, not even for the bread which we 
took from them and carried up the river. But that was his 
own affair, and theirs. They knew him of old. He treated 
them with a sort of scornful friendliness which they didn’t 
resent, realizing him queer. They respected him, perhaps . 
feared him slightly, always seemed well enough pleased to 
see him. Whatever they had in their pots they gave us, 
usually millet or plantain with dried fish or a bit of goat- 
meat. It was a new way of trailing for me. I had traversed 
hundreds of miles of these trails, but always with a horse 
or pony and filled saddle bags, always willing to pay for 
hospitality, though in the mountains pay was frequently 
not accepted. But this was their affair and Eckman’s. On the ^ 
question of water, I was more dubious. High up it flowed | 
clear and there were springs, but we traversed also thickly 
inhabited valleys, and Eckman drank like a dog in any 
ditch. He had a “scientific” theory that flowing water puri- 
fies itself in the course of a hundred yards. If he couldn’t see 
peasants washing clothes, an old crone cooling her withered 
flanks, pigs defecating, he drank, and it was all the same to | 
him if all these things and worse revealed themselves when | 
we turned the next bend. I watched him, thirsty, and finally ' 
succumbed. “Ten years I have done it, and see me ! I never 
catch anything. I am stronger still than you. I go farther 
than those who drink boiled water.” Some time after I had 
succumbed completely to his example, drinking wherever 
he did, I said, wanting to be reassured, “Eckman, you tell 
me that drinking this filthy water has really never hurt you 
— you have never had anything?” 

“No, my friend, nothing . . . sometimes in ten years I 
catch a little dysentery . . . once typhoid . . . once or 
twice black-water fever. But it did not hurt me. I vas soon | 
out. It vas nothing. It cannot hurt you.” | 


This was one of the many times when I should have en- 
joyed killing Eckman. 

I had two little revenges on him during that first trip, 
and they both got under his skin, the first metaphorically, 
and the second literally. He had been telling me all sorts of 
interesting things about his own subject, illustrated by the 
growths along the trail. He always knew everything, and 
nobody else knew anything; but in this case there was some 
justification for his vanity. It was all interesting, and a lot 
of it was not dry technicality. On a bush were things that 
looked like big brown caterpillars. Eckman said, “Don’t 
touch it! It vill drive you crazy.” I have forgotten the 
Latin name he gave them. The negroes, he said, called them 
pois gratter (scratch-peas). When they got into the big 
cane fields below, the peasants would burn the fields rather 
than be sent in to cut the cane. Then they would blame it on 
the fire-hags, which are supernatural. A planter has maybe 
a hundred acres of fine cane, almost ready to cut. Some day 
when he is sitting on his porch counting up the profit, fire 
breaks out in an isolated spot. Not a soul near it. No negroes 
in there. You rush about the edges with dogs and shotguns. 
You never find anybody or anything. The negroes all have 
unbreakable alibis. But the night before, they had gone in 
there and lighted two or three candles with dried leaves 
piled at their bases. The fire started many hours afterward. 
All you could ever get out of any of the blacks was that 
the fire-hags did it. Yet curiously enough, some of them be- 
lieved in fire-hags too. What fools the peasants were, said 
Eckman — what silly names they gave the plants and 
flowers, for instance. Some of the names had a silly sort of 
colloquial aptness, he granted, like this pois gratter^ like 
that thing over there which they called matta-caval (horse- 
killer), a shrub with little red and yellow flowers, a milky 
sap; it was one of the queer plants, because it would kill 
horses and cows but not hurt humans; then there was the 
7naman guepe (wasp), a thorny rod with rose-red flowers 



and stinging leaves like thistles. But some of the names, he j 
said, were stupid and meaningless; for instance, this plant j 
here they call corban^ which makes no sense at all. ... It 
seemed to me Eckman was ranting a bit, that his point was 
poorly taken anyway. The names seemed to me nice names, 
showing a good deal of primitive imagination. I suggested 
that corban probably meant something equally apt of which 
he was ignorant. It always annoyed him to be told there was 
anything he didn’t know. I annoyed him further by pluck- 
ing some of the leaves from this plant — it bore no flowers — 
and by stopping peasants along the trail to ask why they 
called it corban. Several shook their heads, but Anally one 
knew. It was absurdly simple. He put his finger on the leaf, 
''Ou capaV one //, U cou cuir^'' (You can see, it is like 
leather). It was true. The leaves were heavy, dark, smooth, 
with curious deep grooved markings, exactly like hand- 
tooled leather — like the crude tooling on the leather scab- 
bard of the machete this very man was carrying. And corbaji 
was simply “cordovan.” I pointed this out to Eckman. I 
said, “These peasants have more imagination than you.” 

“Veil,” he snapped, “how could you have me to know j 
that? I am a botanist, not a philologue.” 

It got under his skin. 

My second petty revenge, in which Providence aided 
me, came in connection with Eckman’s sleeping habits. 
Whenever there was a caille or even a hut available, he 
insisted on sleeping indoors. This was possibly because he 
had to sleep so often without shelter. I preferred sleeping 
under a tree, and he tried to bully me into sleeping inside 
just because he preferred it. One morning about two o’clock, 
as I lay peacefully sleeping, he exploded out of a hut, howl- 
ing that the ants were all over him, and biting him to 
death. I didn’t offer to help him. I said, “You swine, if 
you’d bathe as often as these negroes do, the ants would let 
you alone.” 

I liked him better after that episode. 

. . . she began a dance in rhythm with his.” 

See page 221 

Chapter IX 


It was a clear, crisp, starry night, with no moon. One got 
an impression of total darkness; yet shadow-like objects 
loomed. Eckman was somewhere up ahead of us, doubtless 
quarreling and mumbling to himself — shouting back im- 
patiently from time to time because we couldn’t keep pace 
with him. 

I could dimly see ahead the receding white rump of 
Aubrey’s mare. It became my pole-star guide. I followed it 
as the Children of Israel followed the cloud of smoke and 
the pillar of fire. I seemed to follow that white rump for 
hours as it floated ahead in the path like a receding ghost. 
So long as I followed it, I wasn’t completely lost. I couldn’t 
have had more solace in the white flanks of the Callipygian 
Venus. I reflected that had Aubrey elected to ride a bay or 
black I should have been irrevocably lost. We had climbed 
more than five thousand feet that day from tropical sea- 
level, and the rarefied air made me flighty. 

Polyglot Aubrey, ahead of the white mare, leading it, 
and therefore with nothing to guide him, was moaning, 
7nio^ Gott m Hi^nmel^ sacre nom de bon DieuC and 
I called out to him, “I think your bon Idieu has abandoned 
us, and I’ve lost faith in Eckman; suppose we offer prayers 
and promise candles to Christophe, the patron saint of 

“Five, six — a dozen candles — a basket of candles — as 
many as you like,” he called back to me. “My feet are 
blistered and I am casse dans les reins.” 

So, winded though we were, we shouted supplications 




to Saint Christophe, promising him a dozen candles, with 
gilded fluting, finer than any which burned before the 
Blessed Virgin, exceptional and expensive candles, for his 
shrine in the cathedral at Port-au-Prince, if he would lead 
us to a habitation that night. 

We were on our way — or hoped we were — to climb 
Morne La Selle, the highest and most inaccessible mountain 
in Haiti. It was the peak of a great central broken ridge, its 
summit visible from far out in the Atlantic and the Carib- 
bean when it wasn’t covered with clouds; but when one 
approached near to the coast by ship, whether from north 
or south, it usually disappeared behind closer high, guard- 
ing ranges. From Port-au-Prince, for instance, it couldn’t 
be seen at all, though its summit was almost ten thousand 
feet high. There is no other mountain in North America so 
high between it and the Rockies. In Santo Domingo, which 
lies eastward, there is one slightly higher range. No man 
now living in Haiti except Eckman had ever climbed it. 
The United States Geodetic Survey had reached its summit 
in 1919, by taking a mule train up the Jacmel side and 
establishing a base at six thousand feet, but no members 
of that expedition were now in Haiti. Dr. Paul Wilson 
had tried three times in as many years, and failed. It was 
not a problem of technical mountaineering, scaling sheer 
Alpine cliffs. It was mainly a problem of not getting lost. 

Apparently we were lost now, with the added temporary 
complication of darkness. We had come up from the Cul- 
de-Sac by a long trail over many high ranges. In the morn- 
ing there had been three points on the trail from which the 
Morne La Selle salient was visible, its summit lost among 
the clouds, but since noon other ranges had inclosed us. We 
would not see it again, Eckman told us, until we got on the 
top of the La Selle ridge itself. We were trying to reach this 
night a place called Camp Franc, at an altitude of fifty- 
five hundred feet, where there were colonial ruins, immense 
chestnut trees, and some native huts which were the last 



human habitation Eckman had seen on his former ascent. 
From that point onward he was going to lead us by a new 
route which he had worked out theoretically, as being more 
practical for the last stage than the one he had previously 

There were five of us beside Eckman: Dr. Wilson, Dr. 
Parsons, Barker, American botanist of the Service Tech- 
nique, and M. Aubrey, a middle-aged, handsome, bronze- 
colored Haitian who had learned mountain-climbing in Ger- 
many and Switzerland. 

And now apparently we were all lost together, Eckman 
included, straggling along behind each other but still within 
shouting distance, leading our horses, Aubrey and I begging 
Saint Christophe to aid the weary travelers. 

It was doubtless fortuitous rather than miraculous that 
twenty minutes later, Eckman shouted back that he had 
found the chestnut trees. Aubrey and I gave him no credit 
for it. 

They were gigantic European chestnut trees, an avenue 
of them planted two centuries ago by some rich colonial 
whose name is forever lost, leading to the ruins of what must 
once have been a superb estate, which we examined later 
by daylight. 

Had we arrived here a hundred and fifty years ago, a 
marquis might have welcomed us, slaves would have tended 
our horses, wines of old France would have been brought 
from the cellar for our refreshment, and we would have 
slept in a chateau amid gardens of roses. 

The giant chestnut trees, planted in a double row at in- 
tervals of some fifty yards, guided us in the darkness along 
the top of a ridge, and when we came to the last of them, no 
longer in any footpath, Aubrey began shouting to Eckman, 
but there was no reply. We sat down, holding our horses’ 
bridles, while Parsons, Barker, and Wilson straggled up 
and joined us. We shouted now in concert, and when still 
no answer came, began to wonder if Eckman had slid off 



a cliff. “Not that goddammed mountain goat,” said Wilson. 

There was nothing to do but wait. 

After a while, from somewhere forward and down the 
slope toward the left, came the mocking voice of Eekman, 
so elose that he searcely needed to shout, 

“Veil, you lazy fellows, vy don’t you come on?” 

Forward and down we stumbled, until we came to plan- 
tains and knew we were on the edge of a habitation, then 
saw a dull glow, and arrived, missing the footpath, at 
Maman Lucie’s caille. Beside a fire, in the little compound, 
sat Eekman, brewing tea. By the other side of the fire, 
erouched Maman Lucie, an old crone with her head swathed 
in cloths, apparently half asleep. Eekman said to her in 
creole, “These are the other doctors; call some of your 
little world to give a hand with the horses.” It seemed the 
“big world” — the old man — was away. Maman Lucie, half 
aroused from her torpor, called, “Ameluse, Ti Son, vin kit 
bai coup” 

By the red glow of the fire, we saw in the doorway of the 
mud hovel a wench of fourteen or fifteen years, apparently 
stark naked, who stared at us dumbly. High lights on her 
white eyeballs and her black, pointed breasts made her like 
a figure on a Rembrandt eanvas. Hiding behind her, hud- 
dling against her, was a still littler “world,” a boy of eight 
or ten. 

“Vini done” said Maman Lucie, and “No need to gain 
fear,” said Eekman, and they came out reluetantly to help 
us with our saddle gear. The girl, who had a necklace of 
bones and beads and the inevitable ouanga strung round her 
neck on a cord, totally unconscious of her nudity, was more 
timidly curious than fearful. The boy, clad in a raggedy- 
tailed old shirt, was breathless with terror. His hands trem- 
bled as he helped unbridle and halter the horses, and when 
Parsons patted him on the back and asked if he was Ti Son, 
he replied “Out” in a shrill falsetto treble like the squeak- 
ing of an animal. I do not mean it as a figure of speech that 



he was breathless; I mean he was so frightened he actually 
couldn’t get his breath to utter normal sounds. It turned out 
that except for Eckman, he had never seen a white face 
before. When Aubrey snapped on his flash-light, Ti Son 
darted back screaming; the girl too leaped as if shot, but 
stood her ground. 

They helped pile up our gear, and showed us where we 
could tether our horses for the night, among the plantains. 

The five of us who had ridden at least half the long road 
were too tired to care much about eating, but Eckman, who 
had walked the whole distance with a heavy knapsack, was 
devouring a warmed-over mess of millet from the old 
woman’s iron pot. So long as he could get native food, he 
scorned the elaborate canned stuff we had lugged along in 
our packs. We squatted in a wide outer circle around the 
fire and had some of his tea in our canteen tins with a bit 
of bread; then we smoked and talked. Close by the fire, 
inside our circle, sat Eckman and Maman Lucie. Presently 
Amelisse, drawn by her curiosity, came and crouched beside 
the fire to watch us. 

Eckman, with his belly full of millet, was becoming 

“Veil,” he said expansively, “it is all right, yes?” 

But when all of us, even including Wilson, agreed that it 
was quite all right, he couldn’t bear the harmony, and 
added, “ Joost the same, you vere fools to go on ; it vas better 
ve should stop by the chapel.” 

And then he tried to brow-beat us all into huddling inside 
the caille to sleep, because he preferred it to lying beneath 
the stars. We told him to go to hell, and disposed our 
blankets among the plantains, near where the horses were 

As Wilson bunked down, he groaned, “What a swine 
Eckman is ! You’ll never get me on another trip with him.” 

Aubrey protested, “No, Eckman is good; it is just his 
way,” and Barker’s voice, out of the darkness, interrupted. 



“You’re a liar, Wilson — ^you’d go with him again next 

“Well, if I would,” retorted Wilson sleepily, “it just 
shows what a fool I am.” 

Dawn awakened us, refreshed but sore. We routed out 
Eckman, who was still snoring, Maman Lucie made coffee, 
and we were off. 

Maman Lucie’s habitation was the highest and last Eck- 
man had touched on his former Morne La Selle adventure. 
He had taken to the woods, avoiding human contact, be- 
cause it was said in Port-au-Prince that one obstacle in 
climbing the peak was that superstitious peasants, believ- 
ing it a sort of savage Olympus, home of gods and demons, 
refused to let explorers and travelers pass. 

However, rumor said that a village existed on the Merion 
ridge, across a deep gorge from Camp Franc, and perhaps a 
thousand feet higher up. No such village was shown even 
on the large-scale detail maps — not even the trails were 
charted any higher than Camp Franc — but if it did exist, 
Eckman believed we could find it. 

Scattered around Camp Franc there were a half dozen 
habitations like Maman Lucie’s. None of the dwellers on 
this ridge had ever crossed the gorge, but they assured us 
that people of some sort lived above, because at night they 
sometimes heard the sound of drums. 

We were as much interested in this — and in putting the 
rumored barrier of superstition to a test — as we were in 
climbing the mountain. Parsons had brought medicines in 
his saddle bag — the best of all passports — and Eckman, 
with his unwieldy folio of botanical specimens, was gen- 
erally considered to be a docteur feuille (leaf-doctoring 

We descended the gorge by a clearly marked footpath, 
single file, forced most of the time to lead our horses. When 
it became certain that this path merel)^ wound down the 
ravine to emerge in a lower valley, we turned back, and 



Eckman presently discovered a fainter trail — he said it 
was a trail, though we could see nothing — which promised 
to take us up Merion ; and it did. 

On a small plateau at six thousand feet we saw smoke 
and came to cleared fields, planted in congo peas and millet 
— even a few plantains, rare at that elevation — with a 
number of scattered habitations. 

“Oy, oy!” cried Eckman — one of his favorite ejacula- 
tions, though there wasn’t a trace of Hebrew in him — 
“maybe they vill be surprised to see us.” 

As we rode toward the largest of the habitations, men 
and boys, all with machetes, came running from the fields 
until a group of twenty or thirty were gathered close round 
us. They gave us no greeting — which was strange — and 
refused to respond to our questions, whispering among 
themselves. They seemed puzzled and worried rather than 
hostile. Women came to the doors, even out toward the 
path, and stared at us silently, wide-eyed, but not afraid. 

Here for the first and only time in Haiti I saw tattooed 
faces of men and women. The markings were thus, di- 
versely, on cheeks or forehead: 


The first two symbols, I believe, had both a sexual and a 
serpent significance; the heart-shaped one I cannot guess 
unless it was intended to represent a heart; the fourth and 
fifth symbols represented perhaps the triple paths and triple 
circles through which the voodoo mysteres move.^ 

Fred Baker, who spent many years in the hills and is now engaged in 
rubber experimentation for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says these 
tattoo marks, which are really burns, seen only in the most remote and 
isolated communities, are made with a caustic from the shell of the cashew 
nut (Anacardium occidentale), and that the heart-shaped mark is the 
natural outline of the split shell pasted against the cheek. 



Except that their clothes were home-made rather than 
store-bought, they were all dressed like any Haitian peas- 
ants, and seemed prosperous. At the point where the path 
passed in front of the largest habitation, the men crowded 
across it, not barring our progress in a threatening way, 
but as if it were taken for granted that we must stop there. 
Still they stared dumbly, refusing to parley. We had all 
dismounted. Ordinarily, rural etiquette required them to 
take our bridles. Aubrey, to establish contact, offered his 
bridle to a youth, who hesitated and turned toward an 
older man, who shook his head. Eckman, impatient, said 
he had grand soif and demanded water — a request which 
it was difficult to deny, and which somewhat broke their 
reserve. There were hurried whispers, and then one said, 
“Besom ''tend gros ?noon.” 

Ten minutes later, the gros moon, chief of the village, 
arrived, a tall old man, barefoot, in overalls and blouse, 
head swathed in a bandanna, sparse, white, pointed beard. 

We had been prepared to meet suspicion and obstacles, 
but not for the surprise he gave us. 

“Where are your papers?” he demanded, and it was our 
turn to gape and stare. 

Aubrey asked him to please explain what he meant. 

“I,” said the old man, “am Authority. I am General Tele- 
mon, chief of section, and in the name of Nord Alexis, presi- 
dent, I demand to see your papers.” 

“My friend,” said Aubrey, “I also am a general, and I 
salute your authority, but President Nord Alexis, alas, has 
been dead these twenty years. Our president now is Louis 
Borno, there is peace in the plains, and a laisser-passer is 
no longer required of travelers.” 

The old man seemed in doubt whether to believe Aubrey 
or not, and puzzled what he ought to do. “It may well be,” 
he said, “that Nord Alexis is dead. There have been no 
travelers here in many years, and we do not go down from 


the mountain; but who are these white men, and why do 
you come to my village?” 

Aubrey explained that we were doctors, looking for herbs 
which grew still higher in the mountains, and that we came 
asking his friendly hospitality, water, forage, and care for 
our horses, while we went farther on foot. 

We showed him Eckman’s specimens, which carried con- 
viction, the bottles and boxes in Parsons’ saddle bag, and 
offered to treat any sickness in the village. 

Their suspicion melted, and now they disputed for the 
privilege of taking our horses and gear, three or four seizing 
the same bridle, fighting and tugging over our saddle bags 
and rolls, so that an untitled cinema flash, had one been 
taken, would have carried the impression we were being 
roundly pillaged. Old Authority restored peace, designated 
individuals to take our horses to water and pasture, ordered 
all our gear piled up against the wall of his own house, ’and 
set his women-folk to pounding coffee for our refreshment. 

Then came an episode that increased their friendliness. 
A cousin of Old Authority lay on a pallet with a dislocated 
shoulder, badly swollen. Fastened to his arm was a wooden 
cross, and around his neck a ouanga bag of greasy black 
cloth, the size of a goose-egg, filled with merde-diable (their 
name for assafoetida), dried pig-tree leaves, and snake 
bones. It was an excellent, high-smelling ouanga^ but it 
hadn’t worked. 

Wilson and Parsons prodded him over, and said, “Papa, 
we are going to throw your shoulder back in place, but it’s 
going to hurt, and you’re going to howl.” 

They did, by main force, to the accompaniment of yells 
that Maman Lucie might have heard ’way over on the other 
ridge. Then they gave him a light shot of morphine, and 
when he went peacefully to sleep, the entire village knew 
that we were mighty doctors. 

We had been discussing in English, among ourselves, 



the advisability of confiding to Old Authority our real ob- 
jective, the ascent of Morne La Selle, whose black, for- 
bidding slopes rose over yonder behind Merion, disappear- 
ing as if they went on up forever among the clouds. 

Barker, who had been turned back some months before 
by superstitious peasants who became angry and threaten- 
ing when he had tried to climb Morne au Diable in the 
north, was in favor of saying simply that we sought plants 
on the higher slopes of Merion, but the rest of us — now that 
Old Authority and his people were friendly — felt it would 
be more interesting to tell him, and if he raised objections, 
argue it out. 

So we did tell him, more keen on his reactions than his 
help, which at a pinch we could get along without. He 
shook his head vigorously. It was forbidden, he told us, but 
not by his or any other human authority; on Morne La 
Selle, as everybody knew, were loup-garous and demons. 
We couldn’t go, not because he forbade it, but because we 
would be killed. There was an old trail, he said, which 
skirted Morne La Selle some thousand feet higher, crossing 
the Merion ridge, and leading down to Sal Trou; that far 
we could go, though even there it was dangerous after dark, 
and that far he would gladly give us guides and carriers; 
beyond that there were no trails — at least none made by 
human feet. 

Now there was no use whatever to argue with Old 
Authority that demons and loup-garous did not exist ; rather, 
we pointed out that Dr. Eckman was not merely a docteur 
jeuille but a hoc or (sorcerer) under the protection of his 
gods, and that no demon of any sort had power to harm 
him or those under his protection. 

At this point Aubrey had an inspiration. He broke in on 
the old chief’s dubious objections by saying, “Papa, one 
reads in your face that you have courage, and this is a great 
adventure. I am a black man like yourself, and I am going 
because I know that no harm can come to me with this 



white hoc or. Why not yourself come with us? It will in- 
crease your power.” 

It was a splendid idea of Aubrey’s, It flattered the old 
man ; it made him as one of us ; it made him an ally. His 
eyes glowed with excitement, and then the excitement died 
and he said, “Ten years ago, I believe I would have done 
it; now I am too old; but I will provide boys, if any can 
be found who will dare it.” 

“Veil, dat is fine!” said Eckman, and patted him on the 
back. “In vun hour ve vill start, yes?” 

“Masilia,” shouted Old Authority to one of his wives, 
“call the major and make sound the drum !” 

A work-drum boomed the village assembly call, and 
thirty or forty men and boys gathered in Old Authority’s 
compound, where he explained that Eckman was a great 
bocor., that we were going to the top of the Morne, where 
no human being had ever been before, that we guaranteed 
protection and wanted carriers. 

Such a whispering and buzzing and wide-opening of eyes 
and general chatter and excitement hadn’t been known in 
the village for a generation. “No, no, no,” came at first 
from all sides, the women protesting loudest and dragging 
at the arms of their men and boys. Then one boy, not over 
thirteen, stepped out. He was pop-eyed with fright, but he 
blurted, “Moin pr^allerP’ (I am for going!) 

You could see the quick, elementary emotional psychology 
leap through the crowd, at that. “Who’s he any more than 
we are — if he’s not afraid, we’re not — if he goes, we want 
to go too !” Despite superstition, they were a crowd of half- 
grown children. 

It was like a game of Follow the Leader. Here was this 
village of Badeaux, probably the highest and most isolated 
group-habitation in the entire West Indies, whose people 
had believed for generations that the black, forbidding, 
gorge-broken mountain which towered above them and lost 
itself in the clouds was the abode of demons and sure death 



— so that never had the most venturesome, young or old, 
ever dared set foot on its slopes. And now all of a sudden, 
because one kinky-headed, pop-eyed, scared kid, with his 
heart in his mouth, said, ‘T am for going,” we could have 
had them all. At that moment, if not later, we could have 
marched off with the entire youth of the village trailing 
after us as the rats followed the piper. 

Each of us chose one — boys ranging from thirteen to six- 
teen — and we planned to make our start immediately from 
the village spring, at the head of an adjacent ravine on 
Merion. Men, women, babies, dogs, and Old Authority him- 
self followed us there to see the start. This was the last 
water, and our boys, in addition to carrying our blankets, 
canteens, tinned food, etc., were each to tote a calabash. 

At the spring, we sat around for a short time, ate a cold 
snack, filled ourselves and the containers with water, and 
imagined that we were ready to start. 

But Eckman, usually in a hurry, sat like a sore toad on 
a rock. 

“Well, let’s get going,” said Wilson briskly, at which 
Eckman swelled up and sat tighter. 

“What’s the matter?” Wilson asked him, as it became 
plain that something was. 

“I am vaiting,” snapped Eckman, “for the elephants and 

Parsons caught his meaning instantly and howled with 
laughter. Eckman, at his cantankerous worst, was a hateful 
but gifted master of sarcasm. And he couldn’t bear tran- 
quillity for an entire day. Back in the village he had appar- 
ently acquiesced in the scheme of taking a gang of carriers 
along; now he revolted: 

“Am I Hannibal, that you expect me to lead this army 
to the top of a mountain i Am I Moses that I must be fol- 
lowed by tribes ! All over these mountains, all over Cuba, I 
go alone with a machete and a piece of bread — but you, for 
vun little trip, must have an army of carriers and servants 



who vill only hinder us and hold us back ! Vith this strag- 
gling mob ve never get there. So let us end this foolishness 
and send back these boys and start.” 

In our several ways, some of us angry and some amused, 
we told him to go to hell — that if he wanted to lug his own 
pack, like a donkey, he could do it and be damned — but 
that as for us, we were going to keep our carriers. 

Off he started, finally, still grumbling, and carrying his 
own stuff, we single file after him, followed by our boys, 
with our gear on their heads, so that we looked a bit like 
Stanley starting into darkest Africa. 

An hour later, around noon, Eckman, loaded with thirty 
pounds and cutting through lianas and thorn-bushes to open 
our upward trail, was making better time than we were, 
unloaded and not having to stop and cut ; even the boys be- 
hind us were complaining. 

Every quarter of a mile or so, he would draw away from 
us by a hundred yards, and then we would climb puffing 
up to find him seated on a rock as if he had been there for 
weeks, sucking an orange, or examining some leaves. And 
the conversation at these stops was eloquent. 

Eckman, now in his element, was amiable again, but still 
pretended to grumble, and when Wilson muttered that he 
thought he could keep up an ordinary decent pace as well 
as any man but had never claimed to be able to follow “a 
stinking piountain goat,” Eckman beamed on him and of- 
fered him the quarter of an orange. 

He was gay because we were suffering, and because he 
had a final dirty trick up his sleeve that we did not then 
suspect. Toward four o’clock, marching on easier ground, 
through enormous pine trees, on the Merion ridge, we came, 
at the point where it joined the salient of Morne La Selle, 
to an old, faintly marked trail, crossing our path at right 
angles. It was the highest trail on the Caribbean islands; 
Eckman guessed that our boys would know of lower, round- 
about connecting trails that would take them back even- 

26 o 


tually to Badeaux. And waiting there until they all came 
up, he tried deliberately to shake them, to discourage them 
from going further — he talked to us in rapid creole, solely 
for their benefit, describing vague dangers and saying that 
we had no right to lead them into them. 

It was another of the moments when I thoroughly hated 
Eckman and would have really enjoyed killing him. He’d 
have got away with it except for one thing; the boys were 
caught because the sun would set soon now behind high 
ridges; they were afraid to come on, but they were even 
more afraid to go back with the certainty of being overtaken 
by black night before they could get out of the shadow of 
La Selle and its demons. So they came on, miserable, with 

Crossing this trail, we were on Morne La Selle itself. 
Our plan was to go up its slope as far as we could before 
dark, make camp, then start at earliest dawn next day for 
the final climb of some three thousand feet, hoping to reach 
the summit by nine o’clock, spend only an hour there in 
observation, and get back to Badeaux the same night. 

We tried to keep to ridges, but sometimes, in order to 
hold our general direction, had to lose altitude, descending 
into gorges and ravines. Toward twilight, we descended into 
a rocky one, and clambering up its opposite side, came to 
Eckman, who called, “Look at this, Barker. Here is some- 
thing strange.” We were climbing up an eroded limestone 
escarpment, bare of vegetation, at an angle sharper than 
forty-five degrees, and there, worn in the rock, he had found 
an unmistakable footpath, not leading in the direction we 
were trying to climb, but clinging and winding along the 
side of the salient, leading up toward the cliffs at the head 
of the gorge. 

There was something eerie about it, for there was no 
rhyme or reason in its being there. 

“Vould it be vild goats then?” said Eckman. “1 do not 
think so. Vat you think. Barker?” 



“No, it’s a human foot-path all right,” said Barker, “and 
it’s been here a long time, and I believe it is still used ; but 
what for?” 

Our boys had come up and had seen the path, and their 
eyes were all but popping out of their heads; if we were 
puzzled, they were not; it was all too simple to them — no 
natural feet or hoofs had made that trail, but demons, loup- 
garous^ sans-proels. I felt genuinely sorry for them; their 
terror was pitiful. 

The direction of the path indicated that it went up to 
the head of the gorge, hemmed in by sheer cliffs from which 
there was no egress. To have followed and explored it, 
which we discussed (for even Eckman was keenly puzzled), 
would probably have meant abandoning reaching the sum- 
mit. Parsons and I voted to do it, but the others, more rea- 
sonably perhaps, said we had left Port-au-Prince for a defi- 
nite purpose, and that we should go on. Meantime, Barker 
had walked along it a short distance alone, and was out of 
sight behind rocks. Eckman shouted to him that we had 
decided to go on; he hallooed back and presently returned, 
saying, “I believe I’ve found out where it goes; I wish we 
had time to see. There’s a higher ledge up there. It goes up 
the face of the cliff, and there seems to be a cave — ” 

“Yah,” jeered Eckman, “and an old man with a white 
beard in it, sitting looking at a skull.” 

“Well, there might be, at that,” said Barker. “Somebody 
still goes up there, and I’d like to know what for.” 

“We can’t do it,” said Eckman — and I believe he re- 
gretted it too. “We’ve got to go on and make camp.” So 
on we went, climbing out of the ravine, emerging on a 
plateau where there were huge pine trees, an open forest in 
rocky soil — trees here and there fallen, with rotting trunks 
and branches. 

It was almost dark. We were at some seven thousand feet, 
and even in the tropics it was getting shiveringly cold; at 



the same altitude in the temperate zone, we’d have been 
above the snow-line. 

Wood from the fallen trees, some of which had lain 
there rotting for generations, was plentiful and easy; 
branches as thick as a man’s thigh, great hunks of stumps, 
came loose with a little tugging; and working in pairs, we 
built three huge bonfires, forming a forty-foot triangle in 
the center of which we camped, warm and comfortable, and 
stuffed ourselves to repletion with tea, bread, and tinned 
meat. The boys, huddled together as close as they could get 
to us, were worthless from fear; so, Eckman beginning, we 
took watches of an hour each, feeding the bonfires and keep- 
ing a lookout that they didn’t spread, while the others slept. 

Eckman and Wilson had mutually depended on each 
other to bring a thermometer; so we had none, but walking 
outside the triangle of bonfires was like emerging from a 
kitchen door on a cold November night in New England. 
We guessed the temperature to be just above freezing. 

I was awakened in the middle of the night by something 
alive moving against my feet; it was my boy Diner who 
lay there, pressing against them, curled up like a ball, 
shivering, more from terror, I imagine, than from cold. I 
pushed the bottom of the blanket down over his shoulders, 
and he squirmed under it against my feet, whimpering his 

Barker, who had the last watch, awakened us an hour 
before dawn. Night and the mysterious trail on the cliff at 
twilight had so increased the fear of our boys that they con- 
cluded anything was better than following us farther, and 
announced that as soon as it got light, they were going back 
down. They decently agreed, however, to carry back our 
blankets and other gear we had no further use for. 

We made breakfast of bacon, biscuit, and tea, drank what 
little water remained, except four reserve canteens contain- 
ing each a pint and a half. One of these, with a big hunk of 
biscuit and the remains of our cheese and sausage, we tied 



in a bandanna and slung from the limb of a tree, to be 
picked up on our return; we were to take three canteens to 
the summit, drink them there, and come back down thirsty; 
Eckman had wisely figured that we were safe in using all 
our water for the climb ; he believed that on the descent, we 
could make Badeaux before dark. If we got lost, it was his 
plan to waste no time wandering, but simply keep descend- 
ing, with the certainty that even if we missed our objective, 
we should arrive, by following ravines, at a spring of some 

The first part of the climb was easy going along an open, 
rocky ridge among enormous pines; but we were forced to 
lose nearly all the altitude we gained the first hour, scram- 
bling down and up the further side of a barren ravine; the 
only really dangerous point came as we traversed the stony 
razor-back edge of another ridge, which dropped on one side 
some two thousand feet down a sheer cliff, and from which, 
for the first time, we saw, through a break in the clouds 
which were both above and below, the slope of what Eck- 
man said was the Morne La Selle peak. 

The final hour v^as hard, but not dangerous, clambering 
among rocks, with the big pine trees left behind, no vegeta- 
tion but occasional stunted pines, moss, and clumps of ilex. 

On the last slope of the summit itself, we came to an- 
other, old, faint footpath, and followed it because it wound 
upward. We began to believe it was going to lead us to the 
top, but within a few hundred yards of the summit, it slid 
off to the left, so that we abandoned it and kept climbing. 

The summit itself was undramatic, a round knoll or 
cone of soft, eroded limestone, on which were half a dozen 
small pine trees, three or four century plants and some ilex 

Cemented in a rock was the bronze tablet put there by the 
Geodetic Survey six years before. The plaque said, 
“Republique d’Haiti, Travaux Publiques,” “Defense 
d’Abimer,” etc., but the spaces left for the date and the 



elevation to be chiseled in had for some reason been left 
blank. There, close by, lay the rotting tin can containing 
the hardened remains of the Portland cement which had 
been used to affix the plaque, and beside it a proportionately 
rotted sardine tin, with partly legible lettering which we 
guessed was Seacoast Canning Company, Eastport, Maine, 
plainly a relic of the same expedition. The clouds were all 
about us. There was no view. We occupied ourselves by 
looking for possible traces of other visitors, but found noth- 
ing; and clambering about, skirting the cone, we assured 
ourselves that the mysterious path we had seen a bit below 
did not lead here. 

Our aneroids, allowing for compensation, checked 9,780 
feet.^ It was chilly, but not bitter cold. Toward nine-thirty, 
after we had been there for half an hour and dared to stay 
only about a quarter of an hour more, the clouds suddenly 
began to lift — and what we saw was magnificent. We had 
come up so gradually from one higher range to another 
that the little cone on which we stood had seemed nothing 
more at the last than a casual knoll, and it was startling, 
when the clouds opened, to find ourselves standing on the 
top of the world. Great blue ranges and jagged peaks lay 
far below us; beyond them, southward, shimmered the 
Caribbean, and far northwest the misty expanse of the 
Atlantic Ocean; northeastward in the green Dominican 
plains was set, like a small inland sea, the salt lake of 
Enriquillo, and beyond it, facing us, massed in the sky, 
the great interior Cordillera range of the Dominican re- 

Less than a quarter of a mile away, and connected with 

2 We inscribed the date, our names, the altitude as registered by the 
aneroids, inclosed the writing in a metal tube and buried it under a pile of 
stones beside the Geodetic plaque, leaving also a heavy staff protruding 
from the top of the stone mound. On my return to Haiti in February, 1928, 
Captain Pressley and I flew over Morne La Selle, and circling close within 
fifty feet of the summit, observed the staff and stone mound undisturbed, as 
we had left them. The figures I give from memory ; probably wrong. 


us by a dipping ridge, was an eminence, only about a hun- 
dred yards lower than the summit on which we stood, and 
which looked as if it would afford an even better view of 
the Haitian plain below. 

We decided to leave the summit immediately and use 
the remainder of our scant time exploring that other 
eminence. Barker said, “I bet that’s where the path led; I 
bet we find it there.” And so we did. We found the path, 
narrow, faint, yet clearly worn as if it had been used inter- 
mittently for many years. It led up straight to the brow, 
where we found a table-rock overhanging a cliff, dominating 
the whole plain of the Cul-de-Sac, indeed the whole of Haiti 

“My God, what a spot, what a view !” cried Parsons. 

“Yes, and look here,” called Barker. ‘T guess this settles 

On a great flat stone at our right, on the cliff’s edge, were 
the black, unmistakable traces of a huge bonfire, and in 
near-by crevices we found charred sticks which Barker 
examined and cut into with his knife; some, he estimated, 
were two and three years old ; at last he found some which 
he declared were only about four months old, perhaps less. 
This would have dated the last fire there around Christmas, 
the time of the great annual \’oodoo sacrifices and cere- 

Time was pressing. We left the cliff, and shortly before 
noon arrived at our camp, where we divided the biscuit and 
cheese, stuffed them in our pockets, drank the last of the 
water, not more than a gill for each, and began our hurried 

Going up, it had seemed to me that those of us who 
lagged most had a doubly hard time of it, for Eckman, 
pushing ahead and then sitting down for us to catch up, 
had longer rests ; also he instinctively chose the best going, 
and we, out of sight, only in shouting-distance behind, and 
guided by reluctant replies to our shouts, sometimes 


floundered about and needlessly wasted our energies push- 
ing through bushes, clambering over rocks. So I made up i 
my mind, as an act of will, to cling to Eckman’s heels like 
a dog until I dropped, and I persuaded Parsons to try to 
do the same. At first he grudgingly praised us for it, but 
finally it injured his pride, and I think he deliberately tried 
to shake us off. I do not mean that he tried to abandon us, 
but once or twice, up slopes or down, where the footing was 
good, he broke into the slouching trot of the peasants. 
We were hot, thirsty, and miserably tired. Wilson suffered 
most, and Barker least— Eckman apparently didn’t suffer 
at all. In the afternoon we picked up the Sal Trou trail, and 
used it for an hour or so, then leaving it to follow the 
Merion ridge. Toward five o’clock it became clear that we 
had side-slipped down a wrong ravine and were lost, as we 
had expected we might be. We had also begun to lag and 
lose time. I was still dogging Eckman’s heels, but Parsons 
had torn the side of his shoe on a rock and developed an 
abrasion that must have hurt him cruelly; for he limped, 
and the side of his sock was clotted with blood. Wilson, 
the heaviest of us, not fat, but sanguine, florid, suffered 
most from lack of water. His face was congested, and he 

became feverish from dehydration. _ 

We abandoned hope of finding Badeaux that night, and 
followed the ravine, sure that sooner or later we would come 
to water or a habitation. And at twilight we reached a cool, 
deep spring, bubbling among the rocks, from which a little 
stream flowed downward, and beside it great clusters of 
mint were growing. We drank, we thrust our arms, our 
heads and shoulders into it. We absorbed it. We shouted to 
Wilson and Parsons. Courage came back to us, and a sort 
of elation. We laughed and joked, and congratulated our- 
selves, and even Eckman was gay. Aubrey produced rum 
in a little leather-covered flask; we put handfuls of mint m 
the cup-bottoms which fitted over our army canteens, poured 
a bit of the rum in each, and filled them up with the cold 



spring-water. After drinking, I carried a refilled cup of this 
mixture fifty yards back to Parsons, who was limping up; 
he looked at me with dazed eyes as he drank. He gave 
Wilson half. Wilson wallowed in the stream, absorbing 
water through all his pores; and drying our hands, we 
lighted the last of Barker’s cigarettes. We were hungry, but 
it didn’t seem to matter. Trails came up to this spring, but 
it wouldn’t be much use following them in the dark, and 
we knew that in the morning people would come who could 
take us to food. We decided to lie the night there and sleep 
if we could, though Eckman feared it would be too cold 
for sleep. And then from the westward, apparently just 
over a ridge, less than a mile distant, a drum suddenly 
began to beat. We supposed it was for a Congo dance or 
perhaps a religious ceremony — but as I listened to the 
rhythm, I was soon convinced that it was neither Congo 
nor Voodoo, but a village signal call. Further down the 
ridge presently came the identical call from another drum, 
and then, more faintly, the same call from drums farther 
and farther distant. 

I ventured a guess, which proved correct, that Old Author- 
ity at Badeaux, fearing we might be lost, had sent out his 
drummers, along the slopes of Merion, to guide us. 

We went over toward the ridge, shouted, there was an 
answering shout, which we followed, and presently we 
found the man, by himself, with a drum, sent indeed from 
Badeaux. He thumped out a rhythm telling that we had 
been found ; a drummer across another ridge took it up ; and 
thus Old Authority back in Badeaux, six miles away, learned 
that we were safe. 

As we followed the drummer, who now acted as our guide, 
we presently heard the Congo drums going at a great rate 
in Badeaux; they were starting a jubilation to celebrate 
our return. 

It was pitch-dark when we straggled in. Home-made tin 
lamps and pine torches illumined the yard of Old Author- 



ity’s habitation. A dance was in full swing beneath the 
tunnelle^ which stopped as they all thronged around to 
welcome us. The old man kissed us all. A big pot of chicken 
and another of millet were steaming, awaiting us, and a 
bowl of water, big as a tub, covered with leaves, brought 
fresh from the spring. Somebody tugged at my sleeve; it 
was my boy Diner, who patted me shyly, and then pressed 
into my hand secretly two small tomatoes. I wondered why 
he was so secret about it, whether, perhaps, he had stolen 

We stuffed ourselves with food, spread out our blankets 
there on the edge of the yard, and lay down to sleep, if 
sleep we could with the whole village crowded there danc- 
ing, the drums going wildly. It was evidently going to be 
an all-night affair, and since, in a way, it was in our honor, 
we could scarcely protest. Aubrey and I, meanwhile, had 
got quietly, philosophically drunk on clairin^ and except 
for once or twice in the course of the night when dancers 
stumbled over me or stepped in my face, I slept like a dead 

Next morning we bestowed largesse, bade good-bys 
(Eckman remained, to be gone weeks, looking for new 
plants behind Alerion), and set off on our fattened, rested 
horses, stopping across the gorge to give Maman Lucie news 
of the neighbors she had never seen but whose dogs and 
drums she heard at night, and to look at the relics of the 
old French colonial habitation at Camp Franc. 

Here once, in a spot as isolated then as it is now, had 
dwelt slave-owning luxury — that was clear in daylight — 
but no oral traditions lingered; whether the owner, like 
Count Kenscoff on the lower ridge, had been a monster who 
amused himself by having his yellow mistresses torn by 
bloodhounds, or a kindly marquis whose slaves had helped 
him down to Jacmel when the bloody revolution came, to 
kiss his hand and see him with his family safe aboard a 
frigate for Fort Royal — no one will ever know. 


All Maman Lucie knew was that they called the ruins 
Magasin, for no reason she could assign. We guessed it was 
because the only walls still standing were a circular strong- 
hold on a slope behind the gardens, which might have been 
the powder magazine of a fort, but in all probability it 
had been a storehouse. There were foundations, still trace- 
able, of an extensive villa, overlooking what had been a 
terraced rose garden, with scattered bushes still blooming 
there, a plum orchard, and the avenue of huge chestnut trees 
which led to it along the ridge. There were ruins also of a 
big circular cistern. 

Two nights later — covered with mud and dried perspira- 
tion, unshaved and unwashed for five days — we sat on the 
beer terrace of the “German Ambassador’s,” tired but well 

Chapter X 


On the last bright Easter morning which I spent in Port- 
au-Prince — this was only a year ago — the Champs de Mars, 
a fashionable park adjacent to the presidential palace and 
new government buildings, resembled an untidied battle- 
field on which scenes of wholesale carnage had been recently 

It was impossible to drive through it without swerving 
to avoid mangled torsos ; it was impossible to stroll through 
it without stepping aside to avoid arms, legs, heads, and 
other detached fragments of human anatomies. 

It was impossible also to refrain from smiling, for these 
mangled remains were not gory; they exuded nothing more 
dreadful than sawdust, straw and cotton batting. They 
were, in fact, life-sized efRgies of Judas and Pontius Pi- 
late’s soldiers — done to death annually by naive mobs bent 
on avenging at this somewhat late day an event which oc- 
curred in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius. 

My black yard-boy, Louis — sweet, gentle soul — had 
come to me on Saturday and begged in his soft creole ac- 
cents the loan of our garden machete in order that he might 
be suitably armed to participate in the pious slaughter. A 
Judas, he told me, was hiding somewhere in the jungle 
ravine just behind the house of Colonel Myers, one of our 
near neighbors; if I listened, he said, I could already hear 
the crowd howling and beating drums to drive him from 
cover. “Go, Louis,” said I, “and God go with you.” It 
seemed a sort of neighborhood duty as well as a devout 
one. I suggested that he might take also an old caco sword 




which General Telemaque Jumelle had given me, but he 
thought the machete would suffice, and departed, filled, it 
seemed to me, more with glee than pious zeal. 

Through Louis’ previous kindness — he had taken me 
earlier in Holy Week to call on an aunt who lived near 
Bizoton — I had made the acquaintance, so to speak, of one 
Judas before he had betrayed our Lord and fled to the 
woods. All the little community had contributed toward 
his construction. He sat propped in a chair outside the door- 
way. They had stuffed an old coat, a shirt, and a long pair 
of trousers with straw, fastened old shoes and cotton gloves, 
also stuffed, to the legs and arms, and had made ingeniously 
a head of cloth, stuffed with rags, with the face painted on 
it and a pipe stuck in its mouth. They introduced me to 
this creature very politely. They were rather proud of him. 
He was Monsieur Judas, and I was expected to shake hands 
with him. You see — or perhaps you will not see unless you 
can recall the transcendental logic which controlled the 
make-believe games you used to play in childhood — that 
Judas had not yet betrayed Jesus. He was, therefore, an 
honored guest in their house, as Peter or Paul might have 

And so their righteous wrath will be all the more justified 
when they learn on Saturday morning that Judas has turned 
traitor. Then it is that all the neighbors, armed and shout- 
ing, the men with machetes and cocomacaque bludgeons, the 
women with knives, even more bloodthirsty in their vocifer- 
ations, invade the habitation where Judas has been a guest, 
demanding, "'Qui ho’ li?” (Where is the traitor hiding?) 

Under the bed they peer, if there is a bed; behind doors, 
in closets — I happened to witness this ceremony in city 
suburbs, where they do have beds and closets — while mem- 
bers of the household aid in the search and make excited 
suggestions. But nowhere can Judas be found. It seems that 
he has fled. (What really has occurred is that the head of 
the house has carried him off during the night and hidden 



him, usually in some jungle ravine or thicket close on the 
city’s edge. Judas usually takes to the forest as any man 
would, heeing for his life. But this is not always predict- 
able. A Judas has been known to hide in a boat, in a public 
garage yard, even under the bandstand in that Champs de 
Mars whither so many of them, wherever found, are dragged 
for execution.) 

So tracking Judas becomes a really exciting game. A 
group collects, shouting, beating drums, marching in the 
streets, racing up side-alleys; meeting other groups, each 
intent on finding the Judas planted by its own neighbor- 
hood, but nothing loath to find some other Judas and rend 
him to pieces en passant. Crowds may be heard also crash- 
ing and beating through the jungle hillsides. It is rather 
like an Easter-egg hunt on a huge and somewhat mad scale. 

Saturday morning, after lending Louis the machete and 
wishing him good hunting, I got into my little car and drove 
out slowly toward the suburb of Bizoton. I had been told 
that I should see many Judases dragged along this road. 

I am sorry now that I didn’t go along with Louis instead, 
for as it turned out I had the bad luck not to see a single 
Judas at the moment of actual capture. I did see numbers 
of them, however, being stabbed, hacked, and torn to pieces 
along the roadside, others being dragged into the city at 
the ends of ropes. It seemed to me that the women were 
more savage than the men and entered more frenziedly into 
the mimicry, but this may have been my own illusion, or 
merely that female voices are naturally more shrill. 

As a matter of fact, I think it was all somewhat less 
savage, less gruesome, more good-humored, than this de- 
scription might indicate. There were jokes and laughter, 
comic episodes; there was a conscious element of carnival 
foolery in it, if you please. There were moments, indeed, 
when this carnival foolery seemed dominant, particularly 
back in the Champs de Mars, where I stopped as many other , 
amused sight-seers did, both Americans and upper-class 



Haitians, watching the ludicrous straw-stuffed effigies, some 
with cocoanut heads, being ludicrously ripped and buffeted 
about. . . . 

When a memory of Gilbert K. Chesterton’s mythical 
president of a mythical Nicaragua popped suddenly into 
my mind, as I sat there in the car, I was not immediately 
conscious precisely why it had popped into my mind. This 
mythical character occurs in the prologue to The Napoleon 
of Notting Hill. He is an old gentleman who strolls down 
the Strand in a top hat and gaiters, but with his body draped 
in cheesecloth, green and white. From passers-by he in- 
quires where he may buy a strip of red cheesecloth, and they 
find him comic. But when he gashes his breast with a pen- 
knife, dyes a part of the white cheesecloth with his blood, 
and marches onward, they find him no longer comic but 
rather a figure which inspires awe. 

It was, however, only because I was slow-thinking that 
I did not realize immediately the precise reason why this 
had popped into my mind. There in the sunshine before me 
stood the palace of the late Guillaume Sam; beside it stooci 
the French legation in its walled garden; and there also 
in the sunshine, howling and dancing and brandishing their 
machetes, now ludicrous and harmless, was the same iden- 
tical crowd, the populace of Port-au-Prince, which only in 
1915 had invaded those buildings, shouting, “Qui bd’ li? 
Where is he hiding*?” just as they had shouted in search 
of these comic effigies of Judas, looking under beds, in 
closets, just as they had looked this morning for a straw- 
stuffed dummy; and finding President Guillaume Sam, the 
man of flesh and blood, had tossed him over the wall, torn 
him limb from limb, and dragged his mangled torso at 
the end of a rope through this same Champs de Mars, just 
as they were dragging the comic effigies of Judas now. 

And it seemed to me that during this last generation at 
least, perhaps even in the older days when more gigantic 
figures loomed, that the Haitian people, so far as their 



politics and revolution were concerned, were somewhat 
comparable to Chesterton’s mythical symbolic figure. 

The whole Guillaume Sam episode, for instance, which 
ended in blood, anarchy, and American intervention, began 
as opera boujfe comedy and for months ran its normal comic- 
opera course. 

In the late fall of 1914 Davilmar Theodore made himself 
president in Port-au-Prince and made also the mistake of 
sending one of his generals, Guillaume Sam, north to the 
Cape. In less than three months, Sam, after private con- 
sultations with the notables of the north, announced that 
Theodore’s election was illegal, proclaimed himself Pro- 
tector of the Liberties of the People, sent out to Fort 
Liberte, which is a seaside jungle village east of the city of 
Cap Hai'tien, and there organized a revolutionary army con- 
sisting of some thousand generals and two hundred privates. 

I recently visited Fort Liberte with a man named Petti- 
grew, who is clearing the jungle thereabouts to plant sisal. 
While rambling along the desolate shore to see the old 
Spanish fortifications, we came upon a brass cannon, still 
upright on its ancient worm-eaten wooden carriage, and 
Pettigrew, who knows something about guns, said, “Look 
here, somebody has been firing this piece ; look at the powder 
stains. How the devil could that be?” 

With us was one of Pettigrew’s barefoot black overseers, 
who explained proudly, “I myself am the man who shot it. 
I was Guillaume Sam’s commander of artillery.” He patted 
the green-rusted antiquity which pointed immovably askew 
out to sea in the general direction of New York or Labrador, 
and continued, “Yes, with this I fought valiantly for the 
revolution; with this great cannon which you see I shot nine 

Pettigrew said, “What in the name of God were you 
shooting at?” 

“But, oh,” the pained late commander of Guillaume 
Sam’s artillery replied, “you do not understand these 



matters! It was not to shoot at anything. It was for the 
capture of the town of Terriere Rouge ; you see, they could 
hear the noise there.” 

And it was more or less thus, for the several hundredth 
time, that the revolutionary army moved on, and the city 
of Cap Haitien fell. The government troops fired three 
musket volleys over the heads of the triumphantly entering 
army of the Protector of the Liberties of the People, fell 
back without casualties, sent a telegram to Theodore’s min- 
ister of war down in Port-au-Prince, announcing that they 
had suffered a bloody defeat — and joined the army of the 

From this point onward these Haitian revolutions proceed 
habitually by fixed rules, somewhat like a game of checkers. 
The Protector of the Liberties of the People, with an in- 
creasingly augmented rag-tag and bobtail army, marches 
southward, liberating various villages, and camping pres- 
ently before the important commercial city of Gonaives, 
generally defended by a government army. The German 
and Syrian merchants of the town come out and beg the 
besiegers not to burn it. Once or twice, purely through 
mutual misunderstanding, a part of the city has been 
burned, but usually the matter is arranged without arson 
or bloodshed in a manner profitable to the new Protector 
of Liberties, and his troops receive their first pay. 

Thence they march upon Saint Marc, which is connected 
with Port-au-Prince, the capital, by a railroad line. As they 
approach the Saint Marc railroad head, predictable events 
are also happening in Port-au-Prince. The minister of war 
calls on the president and says, “Excellency, this is awful.” 

“How awful?” asks His Excellency. “Well, perhaps 
with one hundred thousand dollars . . .” replies the min- 
ister of war. The minister of finance is called in. When they 
learn from him what government funds they can grab in 
a hurr}^, they vote it in a lump “to maintain the govern- 
ment.” It may be as much as two hundred thousand dollars. 



Most of this they put aside privately for emergencies. A 
little of it is given to the army, which entrains northward. 
The generals of this defensive army, having received their 
pay in advance, put up a harmless demonstration, and retire 
on Port-au-Prince, announcing that all is lost. 

At this point, as the liberators are clambering aboard 
trains at Saint Marc, it is customary for the president, the 
minister of war, and the minister of finance, taking with 
them the emergency funds, to sail for Jamaica. 

When the Liberator of the People arrives, therefore, in 
Port-au-Prince, there is no argument. He finds the palace 
empty, swept, ready and waiting for his occupancy, and a 
few days later he is elected president. It is an almost iron- 
clad rule of the game that he mustn’t loot or burn in Port- 
au-Prince. That wouldn’t do at all. 

And this, more or less, is the manner in which Guillaume 
Sam made himself president in March, 1915. And he also, 
in the normal course of events, might have ended his role 
in the oft-repeated comedy by sailing in his turn for 

But on certain occasions — occasions much rarer, by the 
way than detractors of Haiti have led the world to believe 
— these comic-opera revolutions have got out of hand and 
turned to bloody tragedy. This is inevitable in a land where 
the mass of the populace, possessing childlike traits often 
naive and lovable as well as laughable, have also a powerful 
underlying streak of primitive, atavistic savagery; and 
Guillaume Sam himself was a black negro of the people. 
Only six presidents in the entire republican history of Haiti 
have been assassinated, a record proportionately not much 
worse than our own, but distinguished from our methods 
by a certain hearty largeness of gesture somewhat shocking 
to the Anglo-Saxon mind, as when in 1912 they blew up 
President Leconte with dynamite, including his palace, his 
little grandson, and most of his bodyguard. 

What happened in the case of Guillaume Sam, reduced 

. . dark mother of mysteries.” 



to its essentials, is current history. I should scarcely be in- 
cluding it in this narrative, which pretends no concern with 
either politics or history, except that it seems to help pic- 
ture so adequately the emotions and psychology of the 
Haitians, which I am concerned in presenting, for good or 
bad, as honestly and truly as I may. And I do believe that 
there is basic truth — not a mere trick of perhaps picturesque 
analogy — in this comparison I have been trying to establish 
between Chesterton’s mythical-symbolic gentleman on the 
Strand and the Haitian people ; they are habitually a little 
comic, a little childish, a little ludicrous, they are easily 
vulnerable to a certain sort of caricature, like Tartarin and 
the French Meridionals; then suddenly from time to time 
something that is essential in the color and texture of their 
souls — essential perhaps too in the color and texture of 
their skins — something more than atavistic savagery, but 
which may trace none the less to their ancestral Africa, dark 
mother of mysteries — some quality surges to the surface of 
group or individual ; and when this happens, we others are 
in the presence of a thing shorn of all that can provoke 
superior smiles or scorn, a thing which strikes terror and 
sometimes awe. 

In March, 1915, President Guillaume Sam was installed 
ephemerally in the palace, and by early summer another 
self-constituted Protector of the Liberties of the People was 
already organizing a revolution in the north, just as Sam 
himself had plotted the overthrow of his predecessor. The 
situation contained similar comic elements. It should nor- 
mally have ended with the envoi so repeatedly written after 
the names of ephemeral Haitian presidents that the Haitians 
themselves have come to realize the humor of the phrase 
as a political epitaph; “He sailed for Jamaica.” But now 
comedy turned to bloody earnest. There were numerous 
tangled contributory causes. The real break came, however, 
when President Sam learned that a group of politicians 
allied with the socially important aristocracy of Port-au- 



Prince were plotting to betray him. Encamped outside the • 
city were numerous bands of cacos. Caco is an old Spanish 
word, meaning a bird of prey that swoops suddenly and 
flies away.^ In Haiti it has come to mean the roving guerilla 
bands which fight or loot for profit; sometimes they are . 
revolutionists, sometimes patriots, sometimes plain bandits. | 
They will defend a president or aid in his overthrow, as 
the case may be. President Sam learned that certain frock- 
coated gentlemen in his capital were secretly treating with | 
these armed bands encamped in the near-by hills. Imme- 
diately he made two daring, risky, and potentially savage 
counter-moves. First he sent his own soldiers through the 
cit)^, arresting representative members of the aristocracy 1 
and throwing them into prison. Next he sent messengers out i 
into the hills to summon secretly the leader of the largest . 
caco band, a “general” named Matelius. And on the fol- ; 
lowing night this caco chief, by President Sam’s own in- 
vitation, marched into the capital with his ragamuffin, rum- ; 
drinking, machete-waving horde, to build their campfires j 
in the very shadow of the palace walls. It was a sight that 1 
must have struck immediate terror to the hearts of the 
fashionable mulatto ladies whose fathers and husbands had 
already been dragged away to prison, and who from the 
luxurious galleries of their richly furnished villas could now 
see those caco campfires burning so close to the palace that 
they could be there only by Sam’s own orders. 

Nearly two hundred leading citizens of Port-au-Prince 
had been herded into the prison. They were all fathers, hus- 
bands, brothers, chosen from the rich, the socially elite, 
chosen regardless of whether as individuals they were sus- 
pected of participating in the plots against Guillaume Sam. 
He believed that people of their group were about to betray 
him; so he seized the group as hostage for his own safety. 
And on that selfsame night, Sam wrote a letter to Charles 
Oscar, commandant at the prison. The letter was ambig- 

1 Derivation doubtful, and quite possibly wrong. W. B. S. 



uous. Sam was an ignorant peasant who wrote French badly, 
but it seemed to mean, and apparently Oscar took it to 
mean, that if Sam were attacked in the palace, he should kill 
the hostages. Sam was so fearful of treachery that he mean- 
while disarmed all but a few of his own palace guards, some 
of whom were former household servants of the men he had 
thrown into prison, and intrusted his safety entirely to the 
cacos. At four o’clock that morning, inevitably, hell broke 
loose in Port-au-Prince. Charles Dalvar — who survived the 
subsequent events and happens at this present writing to 
be mayor — crept down a deep ravine behind the palace with 
some twenty or thirty friends who had escaped Sam’s drag- 
net. They were armed as such men would be, with fancy 
shotguns and sporting rifles; Dalvar himself had the silver- 
chased Le Fevre, hammerless, which to this day remains 
the flnest light fowling-piece in Haiti. These gentlemen, so 
singularly armed for such a desperate business, appeared 
suddenly at the palace gates and began firing. The cacos, 
who could easily have repelled and slaughtered them, of- 
fered no resistance, but hot-footed it back to the hills, 
apparently under the impression that the whole city had 
arisen. The capital has never been a healthy place for cacos. 

As Dalvar and his men entered the palace yard, President 
Sam darted from the palace and leapt like an ape, clamber- 
ing over the high stone garden wall to seek refuge in the 
French legation immediately adjacent. He was shot in the 
buttock as he rolled over the top, and dropped, not badly 
wounded, in the French legation grounds, whither Dalvar 
and his men, aware of international law, made no effort to 
pursue him. 

But meanwhile, a thing which Dalvar did not then know. 
Commandant Oscar, hearing gunfire from the direction of 
the palace, had carried out complete and bloody reprisal 
in the prison. The massacre was started with rifles . . . but 
it was finished with machetes. Later the next day, when the 
wives and mothers of the Haitian capital went to the prison 

28 o 


in their fine carriages to claim their dead, they had to carry 
the remains away in baskets. 

At dawn, when news of the prison massacre ran through 
Port-au-Prince, the entire city really rose, and there were 
no social distinctions in the rising. Aristocracy and popu- 
lace demanded the heart’s blood of Guillaume Sam. A great 
mob, on the following morning, gathered in the Champs 
de Mars before the gates of the French legation, and by 
some curious psychology that mob was for the moment pa- 
tient as a bloodthirsty tiger. 

The mob squatted like a patient monster licking its 
chops in anticipation while four gentlemen of Port-au- 
Prince, whose names have been by common consent for- 
gotten, appeared before the tall grilled gate of the legation, 
meticulously garbed as if for a formal morning call, and 
discreetly sounded the little bell which tinkled in the far 
interior. Perhaps Guillaume Sam, guest of the legation, 
heard that faint, discreet sound of the little tinkling bell. 

The French minister answered in person. I am told that 
he recognized the four callers and that he immediately 
opened the grilled gate. It would scarcely be polite to par- 
ley with such courteous visitors through a grating; it would 
perhaps also indicate that there was something to conceal. 
I am told that his young daughter stood beside him. I am 
told that he said, “Gentlemen, will you come in?” I am 
told that they doffed their hats to Mademoiselle and 
thanked him gravely, but remained standing just outside 
the gate while they explained their errand. I am told that 
the French minister lied like a gentleman and said, “He 
is no longer here.” I am told that they also lied like gentle- 
men, saying, “Sir, we believe you; your word is enough for 
us, but unfortunately it will not suffice for the populace. 
It is better that we should enter discreetly and verify the 
fact than that they should enter to search.” 

“I must warn you,” said the minister, “that either course 



would be equally a violation, which I am compelled by law 
and duty to forbid.” 

“We regret it,” said the four gentlemen. 

“Unfortunately,” replied the minister, “I have not the 
armed force at my command to prevent you.” 

Guillaume Sam had been well hidden. But one thing had 
been overlooked. His wound had been dressed with iodo- 
form, and they nosed him out as the Danish soldiers in 
Ha??ilet did the body of Polonius hidden behind the arras at 
Elsinore. He offered no resistance until they were descend- 
ing the staircase, and then his bodily courage snapped. One 
of those four gentlemen, with whom I have talked many 
times, tells me he believes that Sam never lost his moral 
courage or his mental intent to march bravely down that 
stairway to his certain death. But he could not control his 
automatic muscular reactions. His thick peasant hands 
gripped the heavy wooden balustrade, and offering resist- 
ance of no other sort, he clung to it for dear life. Sam was 
a powerful black negro of the people, a brute in physical 
strength. It would have been impossible for those four men 
to dislodge him without a regrettable and undignified strug- 
gle, and above all things they wished no struggle, no dis- 
order, inside the legation. They whispered for a moment. 
One finally lifted his hands, palm outward, in a shrugging 
hopeless Latin gesture of acquiescence, and nodded to a 
second who raised his heavy, gold-headed cane and broke 
Sam’s arms above the wrists. 

Arriving in the garden, they did a strange thing. They 
avoided the gate, over which hung the French consular 
coat-of-arms. It may have been Latin-negroid theatricalism. 
It may have been something finer. But at any rate they 
avoided the gate. They lifted the president in their arms 
and threw him over the wall to the mob outside. 

The mob, of course, simply tore him into pieces. Mostly 
they used their hands. But one woman cut off his head with 
a machete and marched with it. Another woman, they say. 



ripped out his heart and marched, tearing it to shreds with 
her teeth. Ropes were fastened to the torso, and it was 
dragged through the streets. . . . 

Meanwhile, Charles Oscar, commandant of the prison, 
had sought refuge in the Dominican legation. He had ap- 
parently been forgotten by the mob, but he had not been 
forgotten by a certain gray-haired, quiet, dapper little 
colored gentleman whose three grown sons had been among 
the victims of the prison massacre. This little gentleman 
donned his long-tailed coat with its tiny red ribbon of the 
French Legion d’Honneur and his lemon-yellow gloves of 
the old boulevardier (some Americans now in Haiti find 
material for derisive amusement in old gentlemen of his 
sort) and called upon the Dominican legation. I am told 
that he sent in his card. I am told that Charles Oscar, who 
was a cruel man but not a coward, entered the drawing-room 
with a nervous smile. Be those things as they may, the little 
old gentleman shot him carefully three times through the 
heart, one bullet for each of his dead sons. . . . 

At the precise hour when these events were occurring, 
the American battleship W ashing ton was steaming into the 
harbor. More than twelve years have passed, and the Ameri- 
cans have been in Haiti continuously ever since. The pres- 
ence of the Americans has put an end to many things. It has 
put an end to revolution, mob violence, and many other de- 
plorable conditions which the entire reasonable world agrees 
should be put an end to. It has also put an end, or if not an 
end, a period, to more than a century of national freedom of 
a peculiar sort, which has existed nowhere else on earth save 
in Liberia — the freedom of a negro people to govern or mis- 
govern themselves, to stand forth as human beings like any 
others without cringing or asking leave of any white man. 
I do not understand these things. But I think I understand 
something that was in the soul of the little gentleman who 
called at the Dominican legation, and I hope we haven’t 
put an end to that too. 

From the Author s Notebook 

From the Author s Notebook 


1. Haitian creole is a language based on French, sim- 
plified, corrupted, and elided — also occasionally enriched 
— into which are incorporated scattering words of African, 
Spanish, and English origin. 

It has no standardized orthography. The written lan- 
guage of Haiti is French. Haitian writers, including 
Georges Sylvaine, Oswald Durand, and Frederic Doret, 
have invented divers highly varied systems of creole pho- 
netic spelling which are more or less intelligible to the 
French reader but puzzling to the English eye and ear. 

Endeavoring to patch together a phonetic system that 
might convey some notion to American and English readers 
of how creole is actually spoken, I have succeeded, I fear, 
in employing a mixture of French and English phonetic 
spellings which will be approximately satisfactory only to 
the reader who already has some knowledge of Erench. In 
cases where words or phrases are closely parallel with 
French, I have used French spelling so that there might not 
be too grotesque distortion, but when the creole word is 
materially changed from its original French form, I have 
substituted where it seemed necessary English vowel and 
consonant sounds. Eor instance, the creole expression which 
means “children” is a corruption of the French petit monde. 
It is pronounced, to use purely mechanical English pho- 
netics, tee moon. Durand and Sylvaine both write it V/ 
moun. ’Ti seemed to me intelligible to the American eye and 



ear so that it would be an unnecessary distortion to spell it 
tee^ thereby losing all connection with the original French 
word. But moun I was afraid of because it has a less 
obvious connection with French and seemed to risk being 
pronounced by American readers as in “paramount” and 
“mountain.” So I have compromised and written it ’// 
moon. Similar instances will be found in my spelling, in- 
defensible philologically, but forgivable, I hope, for prac- 
tical simplification. 

There are certain elemental rules of creole grammar and 
syntax which should also be explained. 

In pronouns, there is neither declension nor gender. Moin 
(also moi and m"') means interchangeably I or me. Ou (cor- 
ruption of vans') means you. Li (corruption of lui) means 
he, she, it. Yo (probable corruption of eux) means they, 
them, those. 

Nouns and particles likewise have a tendency to remain 
unchanged, whether masculine or feminine, singular or 
plural. In creole it is equally iune homme and iune femme, 
and similarly with qualifying adjectives; if a thing is beau- 
tiful it is always belle, never beau. Another peculiarity of 
creole nouns is that if the original French noun begins with 
a vowel, it frequently has grafted on it an initial “z” conso- 
nant-sound, from the French form, des oranges, des herbes, 
etc., so that a Haitian will say iune zorange instead of une 

In the case of verbs, each verb root has one simple form 
which never changes. This form is likely to be the French 
infinitive or a close variation of it, if the infinitive of the 
given verb happens to be its simplest form, as in the case of 
alter, marcher, marier, tuer, etc. But in cases where the 
infinitive is not the verb’s simplest form, as for instance 
vouloir, connaitre, etc., the creole root becomes vlai or vie 
from voulez, and connai from connaissez or connais. In the 
case of donner the second person singular donnes becomes 
the root form and is corrupted almost out of recognition 



into hom or hai. Certain other verbs are given specialized 
meaning: gagner corrupted to gagnin means to have; 
joiend’ from the French joindre means to find or to get. 

The verb etre, to be, as a modifying verb in conjugations, 
has almost completely disappeared in the processes of 
natural elimination and simplification. 

The future tense is formed with the prefix pour^ usually 
contracted to p’r. The past tense is formed with the prefix 
te, an abbreviation of etait. Sometimes, however, an even 
simpler final form of the past tense is implied by the use of 
what may be the past participle, but has in spoken language 
exactly the same sound as the infinitive. For instance, when 
a peasant says li marcher^ meaning “he walks,” or li marche, 
meaning “he walked,” the sound is identical. And when he 
uses the prefix te to establish the past tense, the root sound 
is still the same and can be phonetically written either 
marcher or marche. 

Combining these above elements, a verb in creole is con- 
jugated as follows: 


I go 
You go 

He (she, it) goes 

We go 
You go 
They go 

Moi alter 
Ou alter 
Li alter 

Nous alter 
Ou alter 
Yo alter 


I went 
You went 

Main te alter (or alle) 
Ou te alter 


Moin p'r alter 
Ou p'r alter 

I shall (will) go 
You will go 



The language is much richer and also much more compli- 
cated than these few crude rules indicate, but they may serve 
to make easier an understanding of the creole phrases, 
sentences, songs, etc., which occur in this book. 

2. Dr. J. C. Dorsainvil of Port-au-Prince, Haitian 
philologist and historian, has made a long study of this 
subject, seeking also to trace back the Haitian Voodoo 
gods to their African origins. I quote from a paper read 
by him before the Haitian Geographic Institute in 1924 
and subsequently embodied in one of its bulletins. I have 
made no effort to coordinate orthography, for all the 
spellings, both his and mine, are necessarily phonetic. In 
the few cases where attributes academically ascribed by him 
to various daimons and deities differ from those ascribed 
to the same daimons and deities by my peasant friends in 
actual worship, I beg to point out that similar variations 
between historic orthodoxy and current practice occur in all 
religions, and the more so in a religion like Voodoo which 
has no written tradition. Dr. Dorsainvil says: 

The word Voodoo, whose origin has been sought in a thousand 
ways, even in the words veau d' or (golden calf), vaudois, etc., is 
simply a generic term of the African fongbe dialect — the greatest 
word of that dialect, since it embraces nearly the entire moral and 
religious life of the Fans (an African racial group in Dahomey) and 
is the original root of a whole great family of words. 

What is the exact sense of this word in fongbe? 

It designates the genii, good or bad, inferior to Mawu, and by 
extension the statue of one of these genii or any other object sym- 
bolizing their cult or their protective or malevolent power. 

From the root word vodu comes immediately the word vodunu. 
It is the vocable designating the religion of Voodoo in its entirety. 
The pontiff or priest of Voodoo is called voduno. . . . 

The statue incarnating the spirit of a vodu is a vodu~wutu {wutu, 

Let us follow the considerable part played by this word in 


The Dahomean’s Sunday is called vodugbe, literally, the day 
of the vodu. 

From this term and utilizing the word aza, which as gbe means 
day, the Dahomean priests designate all the days of the week 
azatewe {aza, day, tewe, seven), as follows: 

Vodugbe, day of the vodu. . , . 

Vodugbe sayihu, day of the games. . . . 

Vodugbe saz'ato, third day after vodugbe. 

Vodugbe si azene, fourth day after vodugbe. 

Vodugbe si azato, fifth day after vodugbe. 

Vodugbe si azaize, sixth day after vodugbL 

Vodugbe si azatewe, seventh day after vodugbe. 

Note: Atd, third; ene, fourth; ato, fifth; aize, 
sixth ; tewe, seventh. 

Ato and ato are distinguished by their pronuncia- 
tion, about like anto and ato. 

It is seldom that you find, even in French, a root word comprising 
so many other meanings in its extension. And we are still far from 
having exhausted all the Dahomean vocables deriving from vodu. 

The most notable primitive form of the Voodoo religion in Africa 
was the cult of the snake or adder. Da, pronounced Dan, incarnating 
the genius Dagbe, pronounced Dangbe. 

The two principal sanctuaries of this cult were in the sacred 
forests of Somorne near Allada and at Ouida. Here, by contrac- 
tion, the Dahomean expression Dangbe Allada became the name of 
the god or loa (a Congo word) Damballah, for whom the symbol 
is still the adder (Damballah-Ouedo ce couleve). As for the term 
Ouedo attached to the name of the loa, it comes from the connection 
which Haitian Voodooists believe exists between Dangbe and Ayida- 
Ouedo, or better, Wedo, the goddess of the rainbow, a sort of 
Dahomean Juno. 

The temples of Dangbe were served by priestesses called by 
the name of dangbesi; thence the song, certainly modified, heard 
here very often under the tunnelle : “D amballah dayigbesi Ouida, 
etc., which may be translated: “The women of Dangbe at Allada 
and at Ouida,” etc. Furthermore, the cult of Dangbe was secret, 
with degrees of initiation. Certain w'ords pronounced by the 


priestesses were passwords like Bohsi, Bohla, incomprehensible to 
the layman. 

Another great vodu of Dahomey is Legba. He is the Priapus 
of Dahomey, the god of generation and fecundity. 

Before the French conquered Dahomey, the statue of Legba stood 
on all great highroads, at all corners, in all the obscenity of a primi- 
tive art to mark well the particular attributes of this god. You will 
understand then why here Legba is called master of the cross- 
roads and highways. Thence the well-known chant: “Papa Legba 
ouvri barrie pour moin ago-e; papa Legba ouvri chemin pour li 
ago-eP etc. (Translation: “Papa Legba, open the barrier for me, pay 
heed; papa Legba, open the road for him, pay heed.”) To this vodu, 
they liked to sacrifice sheep — in fongbe, legbo, Legba’s animal. . . . 

Ayida-Wedo is the goddess of the rainbow, as Ayiza, pronounced 
Ayizan, is the guardian goddess of the paths. Ayida is also servant 
of the genius of the thunder. In fongbe, rainbow is called Ayido- 
Wedo, sun of the earth. Ayida had her principal temples in 
Dahomey and at Ouida. The doors and walls of these sanctuaries 
were covered with hieroglyphs, which Captain Fonssagrives, aided 
by some natives brought up at the French school, deciphered. 

Alivodu, or tree-genius, is the protector of the house, the 
lar. He has as his symbol trees planted in the yards of dwellings. 
He is invoked in case of sickness. You find here the origin of the 
Haitian custom of consecrated trees. Aguasu is another great vodu 
of Dahomey ; he is the guardian of customs and traditions. His 
cult is served by the agudsuno or priests of Aguasu. 

Hu is the Neptune of Dahomey. In Haiti he is confused with 
Agbeto (likewise Agoue), another genius of the sea. 

Heviyoso is the Jupiter of Dahomey, the thunder god. He cor- 
responds to Pie Jupite-Tonne of the Haitian Voodooists. Never- 
theless one sometimes hears the name of this vodu under the 
tunnelle in Haiti. 

We would never end if we had to give a detailed study of all 
the Dahomeyan vodus. The Voodoo Pantheon is as rich as that of 
Greece or Rome. Let us mention rapidly certain other deities : 

Gbo is the Dahomeyan Mars ; he is the protector of the braves 
as he is the enemy of the cowards. Gbeji-nibu, a country genius, 
somewhat like a guardian of herds ; mbii means steer. Zo, the 
god of fire; Tokpodu, protecting genius of Dahomey, Avlekete and 



Agheto, two genii of the sea. Honeli, another lar. Ase, the Hogou 
Feraille of the Haitian Voodooists, patron of the blacksmiths. 
Azilahi, Hoho, protector of twins or marassa. Lisa, genius of the 
moon. Kpo, protector of the royal family of Dahomey. Akwaji, 
Deje, Gu, Gbociyo, Josusu, Mate, etc. As for Loko, he is a genius 
which the Fans thought was incarnated in a very poisonous tree of 
their country, the loko. This entire cult, fundamentally animistic, 
rested on the belief in the possibility of incarnation of all these 
vodus in the body of their servants. . . . 

What has, according to all probability, been preserved without 
alteration among us, is the Voodoo rhythm, the music peculiar to 
this cult. 

It is a solemn rhythm, in the mood of prayer or invocation con- 
trary to the Congo dance music which is petulant, hacking, hysterical. 
The expressions ago-e, ago-ye! which recur as a Leitmotif in Voo- 
doo song, are nearly equivalent to the “grant us” of the Catholic 
litanies, ago meaning “pay attention” and e, ye, being two personal 
pronouns corresponding to the English pronoun, they. 

This Voodoo rhythm is so persistent that it is maintained when 
the ritual songs are composed with exclusively creole words or 
when they proceed in a series of unintelligible sounds. . . . 

By comparison with the other African tribes, Arada, Congo, 
Nago, etc., the Fons have been infinitely less numerous in Haiti. 
How, then, explain the strong religious imprint by which they have 
marked the people? 

It is here that all the Importance of the Voodoo cult in 
Haiti appears. Whether you like it or not, Voodoo is a great 
social fact in our history. The colonists tolerated all the noisy 
dances of the slaves, but feared the Voodoo ceremonies. They in- 
stinctively feared this cult with its mysterious air and felt con- 
fusedly that it might be a powerful element of cohesion for the 
slaves. They were not mistaken, for it was from the bosom of a 
Voodoo ceremony that the great revolt of the Santo Domingo slaves 
sprang. Toussaint himself knew this so well that, having become the 
first power of the colony, he, too, no longer tolerated this cult. 

The Fons, to come back to them, formed a warlike and conquer- 
ing tribe, remarkably intelligent. 

They represented among the warlike tribes of Dahomey what the 



Bambara Negro, praised by the French general staff for bravery, 
represents among the Senegalese tribes. . . . 

A religion so hierarchic, so clouded in mystery, necessarily exer- 
cised, it is understood, a powerful attraction for the other African 
tribes represented in Dahomey. It offered them a body of religious 
doctrines which were founded in no degree on the superstitions prac- 
ticed by them. As it grew, Voodoo divested itself of some of its 
original characteristics and absorbed those of other beliefs: 
aradaennes, Congolese, mines, nagos, caplaous, moudongues. 

Nevertheless, one may find in Haiti the essential lines of Voodoo, 
simply masked now by the newer, superimposed Catholic faith. 


1. Labat, a Catholic writer of colonial times, complains: 

Les negres font sans scrupule ce que faissient les Philistins; ils 
joignent I’arche avec Dagon et conservent en secret toutes les super- 
stitions de leur ancien culte idolatre, avec les ceremonies de la 
religion chretienne. 

The Catholic priests of Haiti today are still confronted 
by this same paradoxical problem. On a number of occa- 
sions since the American occupation, when they have par- 
ticipated with the Marines in raiding and burning Voodoo 
temples, they have been somewhat embarrassed to find 
among the articles, consigned by their own hands to the 
flames, holy crucifixes, lithographs of the saints, and statu- 
ettes of the Blessed Virgin. 

Recently a plaque of St. James the Greater carved in 
high relief was presented to a little country church in the 
north. The saint was depicted with a bag and a pilgrim’s 
staff. A local priest, not long from France, was overjoyed 
when his parishioners began to throng the chapel of St. 
James, bringing pennies and candles in abundance, but 
when they began to bring also gourd dishes piled with food, 
fruit and cooked rice, he smelled a mouse and reported the 
circumstance to his vicar, who investigated and finally in 



despair removed the plaque. What had happened was that 
the peasants had joyfully recognized in St. James their old 
African celestial friend Ogoun. 

Another episode wms told me in gentle humorous de- 
spair by a tolerant old Breton priest who has lived in 
Haiti for twenty years and loves his peasants despite the 
fact that he knows he has never been able to wean them 
completely from their ancient gods. One of his rural chapels 
was by the seashore, and parishioners from neighboring 
little islands came to monthly mass in their crude-sailed 
fishing-boats. One morning as the bell was ringing, with the 
church already half filled, he saw outside the coral reefs a 
boat crammed with negroes coming to worship. What good 
Catholics he seemed to have made of them ! But a few hun- 
dred yards from the shore, outside the reefs, they became 
completely becalmed. A few moments later on the boat 
there was a mighty blowing of conch shells, the thumping 
of a drum; a shrill chant arose. They were making Voodoo 
incantations to Papa Agoue, begging him to send a wind 
that would blow them in to Christian communion. 

Conversely I witnessed one night an episode in which 
the Christian gods were invoked to aid in a Voodoo cere- 
monial which was going badly. The sacrifices had taken 
place, the ritual whirling had begun, with chants invoking 
the descent of the lois^ but for some reason the lots had 
not descended. Finally, however, a girl shrieked and fell. 
Aided by the mamaloi, she got to her feet, still in a trance, 
and tried to dance, as a space was cleared for her, but tot- 
tered, stumbled, and fell again. Suddenly she arose unaided, 
stood straight, erect, and made the full Catholic sign of 
the cross with sweeping gestures, touching her forehead, the 
lower center of her breast and the two sides of her breast, 
saying, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy 
Ghost,” and then praying, “Help me, blessed Virgin 
Mary.” Her strength came upon her in her trance and she 
danced for a long time. 



2. The Legba invocation; 

I am indebted to the West Indian composer, Justin Elie, 
for this and other melodic transcriptions which appear in 
this book. 

3. The prohibition against Voodoo in Haiti is contained 
in Article 409 of the criminal code (Code Penal) : 

Tons faiseurs de ouangas, caprelatas, vaudoux dompedres, mac- 
andals et autres sortileges seront punts de trots d six mots d’ empris- 
onnemeni par le tribunal de simple police; et en cas de recidive, d’un 
emprisonnement de six mois a deux ans par le tribunal correctional, 
sans prejudice des peines plus fortes qui’ils encourrant d raison 
des delits ou crimes par eux commis pour preparer ou accomplir 
leurs malefices. 

Toutes danses et autres pratiques quelconques qui sont de nature 
d entretenir dans la population I'esprit de fetichisme et de supersti- 
tion seront considerees comme sortileges et puniees des memes peines. 

(All makers of ouangas, caprelatas, vaudaux dompedres, 
macandals [bags, packets, talismans, Voodoo objects of 
various sorts for whose names there is no English equiva- 
lent], shall be punished by from three to six months’ im- 
prisonment by the police court, and for repetition of the 
offense by an imprisonment of six months to two years im- 
posed by the criminal court. Such convictions shall not pre- 


vent the infliction of additional severer penalties for more 
serious crimes committed in this connection. 

(All dances and other practices of whatsoever sort which 
are of a nature to foster the spirit of fetichism and super- 
stition among the people shall be considered as sorcery and 
punished by the same penalties.) 

In actual practice, however, the application of this law 
is comparable to that of the Volstead law in the United 
States. Great piles of drums and other sacred objects were 
confiscated and either burned or sent home as souvenirs by 
the Marine Corps during the early years of the occupation, 
and a number of temples were burned. But today Voodoo 
temples stand unmolested by the main public motor high- 
ways, and on any quiet night, even from the stairway 
of the national palace in Port-au-Prince, one may hear Rada 
drums booming in the hills. 


2. Petro or Service Petro is the name given to the blood- 
sacrificial Voodoo ceremony. It derives from the name of a 
slave who was a famous papaloi in colonial times. There 
are numerous other Voodoo ceremonies in Haiti in which no 
blood is shed. In March, 1927, in company with Dr. Robert 
Parsons, U.S.N., then chief urologist of the General Hos- 
pital at Port-au-Prince, Katie Seabrook, and two Haitian 
friends, we saw a typical Legba service, without blood 
sacrifice, on a farm in the hills east of Jacmel. I have not 
included a description of it in the main text because casual 
readers might find it repetitious. I quote here from notes 
made on the following day : 

Leaving our car off the road, we followed a footpath 
southward, and arrived on a hillside at Auguste’s habita- 
tion, a group of three thatched houses in a clearing; hard- 
pounded earth. 



No one was there but Auguste, his wives and children — 
no signs of special activity, nothing mysterious. They were 
peasants, Auguste himself a gray-haired, dignified old negro 
in blue overalls, barefooted, a straw hat with a wide, torn 

He remembered well our appointment, but had waited, 
uncertain of our coming. But he had “notified” the Haitian 
gendarme who patrolled that road, and there would be no 

All of us, including Katie, were taken into the mystery 
house, a simple hut with whitewashed walls, and shown the 
altar, a low cement platform, on which was spread a white 
cloth; calabash bowls containing millet, corn meal, white 
flour, fruits, vegetables, and bouquets of flowers. 

Beside the altar were three drums, tall, pegged, painted, 
of unequal size, and the aco?7s, gourd rattles. As old Auguste 
talked quietly, explaining the meaning of the ceremonial 
which was to follow, a drummer arrived, fetched from a 
neighboring habitation. He took out the Maman drum, the 
largest, with cowhide head, a chair was brought him, he 
seated himself with the drum between his knees outside the 
houfnjort door, tightened the pegs by pounding them with 
a stone, and began booming out the Legba assembly call 
with the two hard heels of the palms of his hands. Home- 
made rush chairs were brought for us, and we sat beside 
him. Auguste’s family had gone inside their house, from 
which only a dim light came. The compound was dark, 

Presently, singly, in twos and threes, men and women, 
children too, appeared and stood or squatted, waiting in the 
compound. Among them arrived the second and third drum- 
mers, and soon all three drums were being beaten, but there 
was no dancing, no movement ; the crowd was quiet as if in 

After some fifty or sixty people had assembled, the drum- 
call ceased. Auguste, now in his role of papaloi, accom- 



panied only by the mamaloi (\{is wife), entered the mystery 
house and knelt before the altar. Neither had any special 
vestments or symbol of office. The crowd remained outside, 
some kneeling, the drums began a new measure, and this 
invocation was chanted: 

Legba, me gleau, me manger; 

Famille ramasse famille yo; 

Legba, me gleau, me manger. 

(Legba, food and drink are provided; 

Family is gathered together with family; 

Legba, food and drink are provided.) 

As the chant continued, endlessly repeated, the crowd 
fell back on all sides, leaving a clear space before the lioum- 
fort, with the drummers sitting beside the door. In this open 
space two men began digging holes in the hard earth with 
their machetes; others came bringing long poles, which 
were set upright in the holes, and cross pieces were lashed to 
them, running to the houmfort roof ; there was a sound of 
chopping outside the compound. A palm tree and another 
fell crashing in the bush. Boys and girls came bearing great 
armfuls of palm-fronds, singing in the moonlight. 

With the palm-fronds was built a canopy, laid awning- 
wise, making a roof for the bare pole structure. We were 
watching the building of a primitive temple, which took 
form before our eyes, built of palm-leaves, in the tropical 
moonlight. Next morning, I was told, all trace of it v/ould 
have disappeared. 

When the /z^/ze/Ze-temple was finished, like an open 
roofed portico before the mystery house, the people crowded 
around it, making a hollow square. 

The papaloi emerged from the mystery house, ringing 
a little tinkling bell, and bearing a lighted candle ; behind 
him came the mamaloi, bearing in her uplifted hands a 
calabash bowl. Boys and girls followed with bowls, china 
cups, other receptacles. Libations of water, wine, rum, 



brought consecrated from the altar, were poured on the 
earth, before the drums, and at the four corners of the 
tunelle; corn meal and white flour were then sprinkled. 

The drums ceased, the singing stopped, there was a whis- 
pering argument. It evidently concerned us, seated in the 
shadow a little away from the drums, keeping ourselves out 
of the way as much as possible. We guessed it concerned us 
because faces were turned in our direction, disputing some- 
thing, but amiable and friendly. An old man whispered with 
the papaloi. The papaloi acquiesced in whatever they were 
talking about. He laid aside his bell. Somebody handed him 
a machete, and the ?namaloi a short, heavy cocomacaque 

In silence they came over to us. The papaloi^ holding the 
machete in his right hand, gripped my right hand with his 
left; then reversed the machete to his left, and gripped my 
left hand with his right one; then he dropped the machete, 
and gripped both hands at once, reversed, so that my arms 
were crossed and his arms were crossed. He did this with 
each of us, including Katie; the mamaloi followed him, 
doing the same thing, except that she had the cocomacaque 
club instead of the knife, and that after she had finished, 
she kissed each of us on the forehead. 

I took it to be the survival of a primitive ceremonial 
toward stranger-guests, meaning, “We could kill you, but 
we refrain, establishing instead mutual obligation of 
friendship.” I was interested that some of the younger ones 
crowded around and craned their necks and whispered as if 
they had not seen it before. 

Then the ceremonial proceeded, with no more attention 
paid to us. 

The invocation hymn, “Papa Legba ouvri barriere pour 
moins^'' was intoned loudly at first by the papaloi alone, 
afterward taken up by the whole crowd. 

The barriere is the gate through which they hope to enter 



the trance-ecstatic world, transported, leaving their common 
everyday world and life behind. 

Seldom does Papa Legba open the gates for all, but 
usually for a chosen few, and no one ever knows which of 
the company they may be. They chant this choral for an 
indefinite period — as a certain hymn may be sung at a re- 
vival, or in a New York spiritualistic seance — until “some- 
thing” happens. They help it along now, men, women, and 
children, by drinking raw rum, and dancing, not the Congo 
sex dancing, but rocking, rolling, shivering. 

An old woman shrieks, leaps, and falls senseless. A space 
is quickly cleared around her and then we see her as she 
lies twitching; presently another shriek, this time a girl, 
and soon an old man. 

The gate has been opened, the lois have come. Those into 
whom the spirits have entered are the center of all atten- 
tion. The drum-beat changes and the chant becomes simply : 
“hes lois! Les lois! Les lois!” 

Hail and welcome to the gods who are present and mani- 

Then comparative silence, broken only by two of the 
ecstatics who have got to their feet, whirling, leaping, and 
speaking “in strange tongues.” 

Then begins a litany — the papaloi shouting a line, and 
the people chanting it for many moments, until he makes a 
sign and a new line is given. Among them, which I took 
down then, scribbling as best I could on the back of an 
envelope, and Parsons afterward correcting, and remember- 
ing one or two which I had forgotten, were : 

Pas lacker plui sou nous. (“Do not deluge us with rain” — bad at 
that moment for the crops. At another season the plea might 
be the reverse.) 

Pas lacker avalasse. (In creole avalasse is not always avalanche 
but often swollen mountain streams.) 

Pas bruler caille main. (“Do not burn my house.”) 

Pas tuer ckwal mom. (“Don’t kill my horse.”) 



A strange one was Pas virer sable ( Do not send the sand- 
storm). There are no sandstorms in Haiti. I wondered if it 
was the creolized version of an older line in the Litany, 
brought over from Africa, and repeated now traditionally. 
Other prayers included sparing of crops and protection of 
homes, beasts, crops, and land from various natural mis- 
fortunes. Because Papa Legba is not a slayer or devourer 
of humans, his litany includes no prayer to spare human 

3. The Voodoo drums are always three in number, of 
unequal sizes, called maman, papa, and (baby) boula 
(sometimes also called cata). Each is long, bulging, cy- 
lindrical, made in a solid piece from a length of tree trunk, 
hollowed and shaped by gouging and burning. The head of 
the ?naman drum is usually made of cowhide, sometimes 
with a fringe of hair left on its edges. The heads of the 
papa and boula are usually of goat skin. The average height 
of the drums is about three feet for the maman drum, two 
more or less for the papa, and eighteen inches for the 
boula. I have seen drums, however, live and six feet tall. 
The head is held in place by pegs wound around with rope 
or cord. The drums are usually painted, sometimes in mot- 
tled colors, perhaps to imitate the body of a snake; some- 
times in solid colors, usually red, blue, or yellow. 

Newly made drums, before being used in a ceremony, 
undergo a consecration and baptism in which they are given 
personal names. Three drums afterward presented to me 
were thus baptized. They were ranged in a row before the 
houmfort altar, the large maman drum in the center, 
flanked by the papa drum and the boula. A flat wooden 
platter was placed before the central drum, with a bottle of 
rum, sweet cakes, and white bread crumbled. There was 
also a small cup containing coffee, and a single candle burn- 
ing. A little boy stood before the drums with a cup of water 



in his left hand and a piece of rock salt in his right. With 
the rock salt he made the sign of the cross on his own fore- 
head, and afterward dropped the lump of salt in the cup 
and placed it beside the candle. The papaloi then stood 
before the drums, holding a leafy twig, and called forward 
an old man and an old woman who had been chosen god- 
father and godmother for the drums. The papaloi asked 
what name they had selected for the maman drum and they 
replied Sainte Rose. .The godmother and godfather placed 
their hands on the head of the drum, while the papaloi 
immersed the twig in the salt water and sprinkled the drum 
three times, saying, “I baptize you' Sainte Rose in the name 
of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; I dedicate you 
to the Service Petro.” The two other drums were baptized 
similarly, the papa drum as Saint Isador and the boula as 
Saint Antoine. ' 

These drums are of the type called tom-tom in English, 
but this name for a-drum does not exist in Haitian creole. 
The only generic word they have for drum is the corrupted 
French word tamhor {tambour') . Their common non-ritual 
drum, used for Congo dances and working in the fields, 
shaped also cylindrically, but frequently made of several 
joined pieces like a barrel, and never pegged, but with the 
head fastened by cords, is commonly called ta??ibor-tra- 
vaille, work drum, as distinguished generically from the 
Voodoo drum, which is taf?ibor-Rada. There is a Haitian 
word tom-tom^ but it means a dish prepared with plantains^ 
palates^ and malanga. 

In a Tioumfort near the main auto road between Gonaives 
and Ennery, I was shown a curious set of Rada drums, or 
rather a substitute therefor, made simply of three unequal 
lengths of a big bamboo, tubes about four inches in diameter 
without heads, on the sides of which the drummers tapped 
with soft wooden sticks. These had been used, I was told, 
in 1919 when the Marines were more active in suppressing 
Voodoo ceremonies. 


4. Another processional chant to Damballa is: 


Pv ^ 

— 1 — 

^ if ^ 

j _ j 

Vy '-i- z 

U L 

— J — ^ ! 

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Oh! nan point jou ma son-gS loi moin Ay - bo - bo! 


1. A ouanga bag confiscated by Marines in 1921 near 
Gonaives is described as follows: 

It was a hide bag, and in it were these objects: luck stones, snake 
bones, lizard jaws, squirrel teeth, bat bones, frog bones, black hen 
feathers and bones, black lamb wool, dove hearts, mole skins, images 
of wax and clay, candy made of brown sugar mixed with liver, 
mud, sulphur, salt, and alum, and vegetable poisons. 

2. Called to a neighboring habitation to treat a young 
woman said to be dying of brain fever, Maman Celie per- 
mitted me to witness the treatment. The girl lay on a pallet 
in a room, on the earthen floor. She was burning with 
fever. I had no thermometer but guessed it to be 104 or 
more degrees. Her family said that for three days she had 
been alternately delirious or unconscious. Maman Celie sent 
members of the household out to pick leaves of the bois 
cochon tree, of which they brought back nearly a peck in a 
basket. Meanwhile she demanded soap, and they gave her a 
piece of yellow bar stuff, store-bought, the same commonly 



called kitchen soap in the United States. She boiled water 
in an iron kettle, cut the soap up into small pieces, made a 
mess of soap suds into which she dumped the leaves, and 
stirred them into a sort of stew. She borrowed a pocketknife 
from the girl’s father, held it in the fire, made small gashes, 
not deep, all over the girl’s scalp. A thick poultice was 
made from the mess in the kettle, allowed to cool a little, 
applied to the girl’s head, and tied on like a big unwieldy 
turban. While engaged in these operations Maman Celie 
made prayers to Papa Loco and Papa Legba, traced a cross 
with her finger tips on the girl’s forehead, and murmured 
incantations. When we went away she left instructions that 
the mess in the iron pot be kept warm and the poultice 
changed every few hours. Next day the girl’s fever broke, 
and she subsequently recovered. I asked Maman Celie if 
she did not believe the treatment might have been just as 
effective without the prayers and incantations. She was hurt 
with me, and I asked her pardon. She was sincere. 

I do not mean to imply that there are not charlatans and 
even criminals among the herb doctors, witch-doctors, and 
papalois of Haiti. I knew personally a wily bocor near 
Kenscoff who brought a negro with a glass eye from 
Jamaica to astonish his adherents, and who also through a 
Syrian dealer in Port-au-Prince bought a chest of “stage 
magic” paraphernalia made in Germany; he also under- 
stood the almanac, and predicted eclipses, claiming to con- 
trol them. 

An engineer named Smythe, connected with the Public 
Works, told me of seeing a bocor at a ceremony near Bassin 
General pick up a bar of red-hot iron which he took be- 
tween his teeth and capered violently around. Smythe him- 
self picked up the bar after the old man had dropped it, 
and burned his hand badly. He suspected trickery but was 
unable to suggest an explanation. 

Major Best, U.S.M.C., chief of police in Port-au- 
rince, told me of a more sinister case which had occurred 



in Petite Riviere. A child fell ill, and the local docteur 
feuille (leaf doctor) was called. He cured the child and 
demanded a pig in fee. The child relapsed; he cured it again 
and was paid a goat. In a few weeks the child again fell 
mysteriously ill, and the parents became suspicious. They 
learned that the herb doctor had been paying a servant to 
poison the child with a sickening weed for which he pos- 
sessed an antidote. 

I think, however, that the majority of the bocors and 
sorcerers believe as sincerely in their own powers as did 
Maman Celie. I want to quote as an example of extraordi- 
nary candor a conversation with Ti Cousin, the famous 
Leogane papaloi. He said to me: “There are many things 
my father [who was one of the great hougans of the past 
generation] could do which I cannot do. He could make 
thunder. He left me all his thunder stones. You saw them 
there on the altar; there are no finer in Haiti. He instructed 
me throughout his lifetime. I have all the secret words. I 
do it exactly as he did, and I have never been able to make 
anything happen. He was able to change the course of I 
storms. I have seen him drive them back across this moun- 
tain and into the sea. I have succeeded in controlling them 
a little only a few times. Usually I fail, but in the matter 
of making certain ouangas I am stronger than he was.” 

Whites long resident in Haiti, particularly those who 
have lived in the interior, frequently appeal for treatment 
to friendly witch-doctors when orthodox medical aid is un- 
available. When Fred Baker, an American expert now en- 
gaged in rubber experimentation for the U.S. Department 
of Agriculture, was working in the St. Michel plain, one of 
his white foremen sprained his ankle badly. Baker sent for 
the local docteur feuille^ who first pulled the foot hard, 
wiggled the toes, killed a cock, and marked the ankle with ^ 
crosses and circles in blood, meanwhile chanting; then ti 
made a plaster of sureau and barrachin leaves which he j: 



bound on beneath a poultice of hot cornmeal, and bandaged 
tightly, with excellent eventual results. Pere Plombe, a 
Catholic priest at Furcy, lay ill of dysentery, and his 
servant, fearing for his life, brought in a leaf doctor who 
successfully dosed the priest with a concoction of juice 
from the leaves of the liane sorossz, juice of sour oranges, 
and stump-water drawn from the base of a dead plantain, 
Daniel Vital, Jacmel coffee exporter, told me of a case on 
one of his plantations in which a sorceress cured or seemed 
to cure, with herb teas whose formula she refused to reveal, 
the wife of a prosperous planter who was suffering from 
loss of blood and anemia after childbirth and whose re- 
covery had been despaired of by the white doctors. 

When my yard-boy, Louis, was cut one night in a fight 
and I took him to the hospital to have the small wound 
dressed, we found, on unwrapping his own bandages, that 
he had plastered it with leaves of the ecorce — also called 
bois sole in creole. Among negroes who come to the Ameri- 
can rural clinics for treatment of wounds, it is frequent 
to find pieces of sheet copper, usually hacked with a 
machete from some old engine, bound tightly against the 
wound and turned green, put there at the recommendation 
of some witch-doctor. The natives believe that any antisep- 
sis or relief they obtain from this is pure magic, but I am 
told that copper sulphate has an actual therapeutic value. 

Among the leaves and herbs used for remedies are vn- 
mortelle^ bois lait, medicinier beni, feuille patience^ racine 
seguine^ gayac, feuilles corailles, ?nanioc. 

The mirliton, one kind of squash, is supposed to be cool- 
ing to the blood ; the beregine, another kind, heating. I sus- 
pect this is imitative magic in its most senseless form, for 
the mirliton is pale, cool green in color, while the beregine 
is a rich ox-blood red. I am not sure whether the same 
imitative principle is at work in the case of the lambie, 
which is a large salt-water conch, whose meat is highly 
esteemed as an aphrodisiac. The shell, like the conch shells 



seen on old-fashioned mantelpieces and hearths, is obvious 
for its primary sexual symbolism both in form and color. 
I made a meal of stewed laiyibies out of curiosity, and 
found them palatable, but as to their potency, imagination, 
I think, plays so strong a part that opinion would be value- 
less. Another aphrodisiac, sold in bottles by sorceresses, is 
made from a small octopus like the squid, dried and pow- 
dered and dissolved in rum. It is called chat rouge {red 
cat). Herb doctoring in Haiti is usually connected with 
Voodoo and sorcery, but not necessarily always. Sometimes 
the remedies are applied without mumbo-jumbo, with a 
simple belief in their natural remedial virtues. 

3. Maman Celie was sent for to help discover who the 
thief was who had stolen a jug of money from a habita- 
tion across the gorge. There were only about six persons 
including members of the family who could have known 
where the jug was hidden or have had access to it. There 
was reason to suspect that some member of the actual 
household had taken the money, though all protested their 
innocence, but they were rounded up by the old man and 
forced to be present at the test which took place in broad 
daylight in the compound. Having asked for a bucket of 
ashes, Maman Celie took handfuls of it and traced a circle 
about five feet in diameter. Inside the circle, she traced 
four small crosses, then sprinkled sand and corn meal at 
the foot of each cross. She cut from a bush two switches 
that were covered with twigs, placed a chair in the center 
of the circle, and sat in it holding the two switches. She 
then got the old man to recite slowly in sing-song the names 
of the five or six suspects there present. As each name was 
called, she crossed the two switches behind the leg of the 
chair, and then drew them forward, pressed against the 
leg of the chair and against each other, muttering mean- 
while. I was told that when the name of the thief was 
called, the twigs of the two switches drawn across each 



other would become tightly entangled. Three or four times 
the process was repeated while all the names were run 
through. Finally the twigs tangled and caught solidly at 
the name of a fifteen-year-old boy called Ti Pierre, there 
present, a nephew who lived in a neighboring caille on the 
habitation. He first protested his innocence, but under a 
whipping confessed and returned part of the money. 

4. John W. Vandercook returned from the Surinam 
jungle convinced that black magic can kill. In an article 
entitled White Magic and Black: The Jungle Science of 
Dutch Guiana,” published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine 
in 1927, he wrote: 

Magic Is the great reality of the jungle. We northern races, when 
we think of magic, see a vaudeville performer with a pack of marked 
cards. Magic is trickery, sleight of hand, legerdemain. It is serio- 
comic foolery. Magic to us is the thinnest stuff in the world — the 
semblance of empty illusion. 

We must forget all that in the tropic forests. There magic Is the 
vital craft of survival. In a land where a locomotive turns to dust, 
where all the science of Europe is empty and will avail nothing 
against the powers of the jungle, magic, developed through a thou- 
sand, thousand years has taught the Negro how to live, how to 
meet the terrors of the manifold deaths that lurk always amid the 
immutable silence of the trees. It is the most serious, most important 
thing in the black man’s world. . . . 

Jungle magic is never for effect. It is purposeful, studied. When 
famines, pestilences, and evils come upon the forest people. It is 
magic that wards them off. It deals with things — with medicines, 
potions, and ideas — which, in the forest, are more real than steel 
and far more dangerous. Magic saves. Then it is white. Magic 
kills. Then it Is black. It is the science of the jungle. 

The way of an enemy is never direct. The mysterious ways of 
jungle death are the only ways down which death comes. Sometimes 
a Bushnegro, out of jealousy, anger, or fear, wishes another dead. 
So he sets his fetishes against his enemy, invokes the zvinti of the bush 
to set upon and destroy him. It is dangerous business, for the mur- 



derer knows that in time he will himself be almost inevitably de- 
stroyed. But there are stronger passions even than fear. 

The spirits of evil are set in action. The one against whom they 
are working learns of his mortal danger. He attempts propitiation, 
seeks to make his protective fetishes stronger than the destructive 
fetishes of his enemy. But almost surely, soon or late, he dies, and 
his family know that he has been murdered. That is the forest way. 

5. Here is another Haitian formula for the concoction 
of a protective ouanga: 

A small piece of gold, a small piece of silver, a small piece of 
lead, a small piece of iron, a small piece of bronze, a small piece 
of thunder-stone, a small piece of river sandstone, a small piece of 
logwood gum, a small amount of fire ashes, a small amount of 
fire smoke, an eye without an eye, a tail without a tail, conducted by 
St. John Baptist, accompanied by St. Mon ton and the Holy Spirit. 
Take a cross from a cemetery, one leaf of Congo peas, a brand-new 
thimble, a set of needles and a bunch of hairs taken from the center 
of the head. Leave the ouanga during seven Fridays on your 

6. The following, literally translated, is one of the 
formulas pronounced by the sorcerer over a death ouanga 
before hiding it in the secret place where it is to lie rotting: 

Old master, now is the time to keep the promise you made. Curse 
him as I curse him and spoil him as I spoil him. By the fire at 
night, by the dead black hen, by the bloody throat, by the goat, by 
the rum on the ground, this ouanga be upon him. May he have no 
peace in bed, nor at his food, nor can he go and hide. Waste him 
and wear him and tear him and rot him as these rot. 

Patron saints as well as the old daimons are also oc- 
casionally invoked to aid in wreaking vengeance on an 
enemy. Sometimes these curses are written or printed, 
wadded into pellets, enclosed then in the ouanga bag or 
cunningly hidden in a chink in the wall of the victim’s 
house or in his saddle or sleeping-pallet. Here is a char- 
acteristic one: 



p5|;$ lesrif altes ,,ec®r 
1 e\ci-8e< '-^ 

(Prayer to Saint Bouleverse [the Overturner]. Saint Bouleverse, 
you who have the power to overturn the earth, you are a saint and 
I am a sinner. I invoke you and take you as my patron saint from 
this day. I send you now to search out a certain one. Overturn his 
head, overturn his memory, overturn his thoughts, overturn his 
house ; overturn for me all my enemies, visible and invisible ; bring 
down upon them the lightning and the tempest. In honor of Saint 
Bouleverse, three Pater Nosters.) 

Her6 is another method of putting a oucingci on an 
enemy. Contrive first to become in his debt for a sum of 
money. Then take the money, go to a cemetery, open a 
grave and lay the money next to the flesh of a corpse, repeat- 
ing certain formulas. Go back in three nights, dig up the 
money and pay it to your enemy who will fall sick and die. 

Life-sized images of human heads, sometimes carved of 
wood, sometimes cast in lead, also play a part in Voodoo 
death magic. I was shown one of these leaden heads on a 



so-called caco altar and was given a partial explanation 
of its uses. The effigy is named for the man who is to be 
slain, and remains on the altar under a sort of death sen- 
tence until the death occurs, when the leaden head is re- 
placed by the real head if it can be obtained. At variance 
with this, however, is an episode which occurred when 
Henry Morales, nephew of a former president of San 
Domingo, was barricaded on a St. Michel farm during the 
caco uprising; a wooden head, carved and painted, was 
hurled through a window of the farmhouse. This head is 
in the collection of Mr. H. P. Davis, who permitted me 
to photograph it. 


1. The worship of the serpent in Haiti has been gen- 
erally misrepresented, as have many other phases of Voodoo 
beliefs and practices. The Museum Journal of the Uni- 
versity of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, March, 1917, page 
125, says: 

In Hayti the basis of Voodooism is the frank worship of a sacred 
green snake that must be propitiated to keep off the evil spirits. 
The meetings of the cult are held at night about bonfires in secret 
places in the forests. The presiding official is an old man “papaloi,” 
or woman “mamaloi” who has gained renown as a Voodoo sor- 
cerer. After assembling, all present take an oath of secrecy and then 
the priest exhorts them to remember the sacred green snake, and to 
hate the whites. Prayer is offered to the divine serpent that is sup- 
posed to be present in a box placed near the fire. Then follows the 
sacrifice of a cock which the “papaloi” kills by biting off its head. 
With a great deal of drumming and incantation the blood is 
smeared over the faces of the worshipers and drunk by the officiat- 
ing priest. A goat may be sacrificed with similar ceremony. After 
the goat there might be a human sacrifice, as was reported by a 
French priest. He said that it was the wish of some of the devotees 
that “a goat without horns,” that is a child, be sacrificed. This was 
done and the flesh, raw or partly cooked, was eaten by the members 
of the cult. 

Above: Maman Celie, \'oodoo Priestess, Seated Behind the Ritual 
Drums. Below: The Sacrihcial Goat. 

White-robed Chorus of the ^^oodoo Blood Rite. Note the Central Figures with Flags, Sword, and 
Gourd Rattles Wound wdtli Snake \'ertebrae. 

Above: ^\)odoo Houmfort (Mystery-House, or Temple). Belozor 
Altar Insicie the II oumfort. Note the Serpent Symbols on the 
Wall, the Serpent on a Staif, and the Crucifix. 

Anthropomorphic Figures Painted on ^modoo Temple Walls. Left: The God Legba and the 
Goddess Ayida Oueddo. Right: The Bloody Ogoun Badagris. 

Above: A ^^oodoo Warning. Below: Caco Altar, with a Head 
^Molded of Lead, for Which the Severed Human Head of the 
^’ictim Is Substituted. 

Above: A Legba \’oodoo Slirine Where Only \"egetahle Sacri- 
hces Are Offered. Below: A Legba Altar with Fruit, ^"ege- 
tal)le, and Flower Offerings. 

Left: The Author Under Protection of Machete and Flag. Rifflit: Manian CUie at the Baptism 
of the Drums. 

Above: Efjg I^sed Symbolically In the \h)odoo Mysteries. Note 
the Two Protective 0 uanga Packets at Its Right and Left. 
Below: Corn Meal Traceries Used In the \ oodoo IMysteries. 

“Papa Nebo,” Hermaphroditic Oracle of the Dead, Garbed as 
Half Man, Half M'oman. 

“Papa Nebo,” Flanked by Gouede Mazacca the Midwife and Gouede Oussou the 
Drunken One. These Are Sorceresses Who Use Corpses for Magical Purposes, 

Above: New Grave with Offerings of Food and Water for the 
Dead. Below: Tomb in the Mountains, with Water Jug 
and Legba Tree-of-Life Tainted Above Niche. 

Left: Garments of a Sorceress’ Son, Hung Above Her New-Made Grave. Right: Girl Wear- 
ing a Ouanga Charm — a Small Bag Hung Arou nd H er Neck. 

Soulouque, Crowned King of Haiti and Emperor of the Isles In 184S Under the Name of Faustin 
1 he Oueen Adelina, Empress Consort of Faustin I. 

Faustin E. Wirkus Crowned King of the Haitian Island of I.a Gonave in 1924: A Crown 
of Modified Tribal African Design Was Constructed of Ribbons, Feathers and Mir- 

Left: A Typical Haitian of Pure African Blood. Right: A Man of La Gonave. Observe 
that the African Mode of Cutting the Hair Has Survived Through the Centuries. 

The Oueen Ti Meminne, Whom Wirkus Found on La Gonave and 
C'onhrmed in Power Subject to His Authority. 



The incessant booming of the drums, the sight and taste of 
blood, and the great amount of rum drunk cause a religious form 
of hysteria to sway over the audience. At the close of this sacrificial 
ceremony the worshipers begin a dance called the “loiloichi,” a 
stomach dance which is well known in West Africa. The dance gets 
wilder and wilder and more degraded until it ends in the orgy of 
the worst description which lasts until daylight. 

The worship of the snake in Haiti is by no means so 
literal as commentators have supposed. It is true that on 
every Petro altar in Haiti there is a serpent symbol, some- 
times painted on the wall, sometimes carved of wood and 
elevated on a staff. It is true also that living snakes are re- 
garded as sacred objects, not to be injured or molested. 
One of the commonest and handsomest is a harmless green 
tree snake which grows to three or four feet in length, but 
all snakes are held sacred. But the serpent is worshiped 
symbolically, and not because they believe he has any 
power of his own; he represents the great god Damballa. 
’Ti Cousin, at Leogane, said to me that the serpent was the 
symbol of Damballa in the same way that the lamb is the 
symbol of Christ. Papa Theodore, with whom I often dis- 
cussed this same question, was of the opinion that this 
symbolism was identified with the jagged lightning flash 
which zigzags through the sky like a serpent; the lightning 
is also connected with Damballa, and Damballa’s heavenly 
consort Ayida Oueddo. It is interesting in this connection 
that the Yezidee devil-worshipers, whose temple I visited 
at Sheikh Adi in 1925? in the Kurdish Mountains east 
of Mosul, and who have a sacred serpent carved in stone 
beside the doorway of their temple (although the symbol 
of their principal god, Satan, is a peacock), are also wor- 
shipers of fire and lightning. 

So far as I am aware no living serpent is kept “in a box” 
or otherwise on any Voodoo altar today in Haiti. A negro 
friend has told me, however, of an Obeah ceremony which 
he had seen in Cuba in which a living snake was the central 



object. He said that a large non-poisonous snake was kept 
in a big earthen jar on an altar, that some ten or fifteen 
Megroes made a sort of circular endless chain beginning 
and ending at the rim of the jar by locking their arms 
around each other’s shoulders; that the snake was then 
drawn from the jar and induced to crawl over their shoul- 
ders, making the circuit and returning to the jar. 

With reference to the belief that meetings of the cult 
“are held at night about bonfires at secret places in the 
forest,” Maman Celie and others told me that ceremonies 
were held on rare occasions in that way, usually at times 
when criminal prosecution was particularly active, but the 
normal place for holding these ceremonials is the Voodoo 
temple and the compound adjacent to it, always in the 
neighborhood of human habitation. Miot of Kenscoff told 
me also of a special ceremony which he had seen in his 
youth in which in time of epidemic or local famine the 
worshipers repaired by tortuous zigzagging routes to some 
very remote place in a gorge or forest to perform cere- 
monies placating certain of the elder demons, who were so 
dangerous and dreadful that they did not dare to invite 
them to the temple or to the neighborhood of human hab- 

Hatred of the whites has no normal part in the Voodoo 
ceremony or creed. The majority of Haitian peasants are 
normally either friendly or utterly indifferent to whites. 
From the earliest times, however, at periods when there 
was war and hatred between the blacks and whites for 
other causes, the Voodoo gatherings have naturally played 
a part. The first great insurrection and massacre of white 
French colonials by the slaves was planned on the night 
of August 14, 1791, at a Voodoo gathering arranged by a 
slave named Boukman. Dr. J. C. Dorsainvil in his Manuel 
d'Histoire (THaiti^ Port-au-Prince, 1925, says: 

Ne a la Jamaique, Boukman etait un N’Gan [Hougan] ou pretre 
du Vaudou, religion principale des Dahomeens. . . . Pour faire 



tomber toutes les hesitations et obtenir un devouement absolu, il 
reunit, dans la nuit du 14 aout 1791, un grand nombre d’esclaves, 
dans une clairiere du Bois-Caiman, pres du Morne-Rouge. Tous 
etaient assembles quand un orage se dechaina. 

Au milieu de ce decor impressionnant, les assistants, immobiles, 
saisis d’une horreur sacree, voient une vieille negresse se dresser. 
Son corps est secoue de longs frissons; elle chante, pirouette sur 
elle-meme et fait tournoyer un grand coutelas au-dessus de sa tete. 
Une immobilite plus grande encore, une respiration courte, silen- 
cieuse, des yeux ardents, fixes sur la negresse, prouvent bientot que 
I’assistance est fascinee. On introduit alors un cochon noir dont 
les grognements se perdent dans le rugissement de la tempete. D’un 
geste vif, la pretresse, inspiree, plonge son coutelas dans la gorge 
de I’animal. Le sang coule, il est recueilli fumant et distribue, a la 
ronde, aux esclaves ; tous en boivent, tous jurent d’executer les 
ordres de Boukman. 

Similarly during the caco uprising in 1918-20 against 
the American Marines, Voodoo priests were active in aid- 
ing the revolutionists. In normal times, however, hatred 
of whites and fulmination against them has no more place 
in Voodoo ceremonial than hatred and fulmination against 
the Germans has normally in the Christian temples of 
England and America. 

2. Dr. Arthur C. Holly of Port-au-Prince, though he 
leans strongly toward the esoteric, has written an extraor- 
dinary moral and philosophic defense of Voodoo in the 
preface to his book Les Daimons du Quite V odu published 
by Edmond Chenet, Port-au-Prince, 1918. 

He says, in part: 

We are Latin-Africans. But our Latin civilization is all on the 
surface; the old African heritage prolongs itself in us and dominates 
as to such an extent that in many circumstances we feel ourselves 
moved by mysterious forces. Thus, our sensibility and our will 
undergo strange emotions when the unequal rhythms of the sacred 
dances of Voodoo, now melancholy, now passionate, always full of 
magic effects, are heard in the silent night. 


By a sort of dilettantism, the cultured Haitian possesses the 
elegant art of deceiving himself. By constantly counterfeiting his 
ideas and sentiments, and feigning to adapt himself with facility 
to a borrowed estheticism, the Haitian has lost his personality as 
a human type. Unconsciously he joins his voice to the doctrinal 
error erected against the traditions of his race ; he humiliates himself 
and discredits himself by becoming a witness in the serious accusa- 
tion formulated by the white against the moral spirit and the mani- 
festation of mystical ideas of his Negro ancestors whose group 
constituted in times gone by a luminous landmark and the most 
living and fecund center of religious humanity. 

Today, a new world, after the great cataclysm, is under con- 
struction. Now more than ever is the moment to try to cleanse our 
ancestral cult of the stain which has been put upon it. In this, 
much of the honor of the African race in general is involved, 
and much of the dignity of our posterity, of us Haitians. 

Our salvation will not be secure until the day when, ridding 
ourselves of vain scruples and putting aside all fears of criticism, we 
shall resolve to perpetuate the purified cult of Voodoo and shall 
raise to Legba and the powerful Damballa hymns of prayer coming 
from the bottom of our hearts. 

I have written these pages, on which I call for the meditations of 
the present and future generations, without hesitating before the 
responsibility I assume in battering down certain inveterate ideas 
and beliefs — considering that, from these meditations, there may 
result a little more faith in ourselves and in our interrupted des- 
tinies, which it is not impossible to resume if we know how to act. 

The formation of religious ideas implies deep contemplation on 
the nature of the world, the universe, the soul, life, death, etc. 

The patient study of these matters gave birth to our animistic 
cult, according to which personified supernatural beings or spiritual 
forces control and direct the material forces of nature and of life. 
The entire hieroglyphic system of Egypt is based on the symbolic 
relations which exist between such beings and the cosmic forces, 
between such beings and the laws of creation. The Greeks likewise 
had their daimons and gods ; the Romans their deities, their Lares 
and Penates. 

All these manifestations of the religious sentiment carry with 
them certain rites, ceremonies, appropriate symbols, pageantry cal- 


culated to captivate the imagination and necessary for the recruit- 
ing of the greatest number of neophytes. 

Why then refuse to apply to Voodoo this esoteric principle 
according to which the visible is the analogy of the invisible, and 
according to which everything in the physical world has its counter- 
part in the world of ideas'? 

One recalls with what heroic vigor the Occupation assaulted the 
peaceful sanctuaries of the African temples {houmforts^, with what 
energy it sacked them. 

The booty, which consisted of sacred objects and ritual acces- 
sories (drums, gourd rattles, banners, collections of thunder-stones, 
etc.) was packed up and shipped to the United States of America, 
in order to serve as proof and illustration of the state of mental 
inferiority in which the people of Haiti live. People saw in these 
material objects only the external character, the physical qualities. 
They could have acted the same way toward the Catholic churches, 
taking as a pretext that the Roman faith includes the adoration of 
figures of stone and wood. . . . 

If Christianity is, after all, only a neo-Judaism, can the pure, 
primitive source from which both these religions originated, lose 
anything of its preeminent dignity? 

This book has not been conceived, as may be thought, in a spirit 
of undignified controversy — still less with the intention of under- 
mining the teachings of the Church. Its principal aim and even its 
only aim has been to analyze the fundamental nature of the moral 
and religious beliefs of black humanity and their relation with the 
ideas propagated by later religions. 

I see some retorting angrily and others smiling. 

“What an aberration!” the pious and the Tartuffes will exclaim. 
“What audacious impiety to compare the divine religion of Christ 
with a superstition as gross as it is repellent !” 

Chained to his feet like the ball of the convict, the African pulls 
after him the criminal and implacable accusation of offering sacri- 
fices to the “Devil.” 

The African, that is to say the Voodooist, offers sacrifices to 
devils, they say. . . . 

It is proper to note here that, according to the historical periods 
and temperaments of various races, according to accepted religious 
conceptions, according to the degree of civilization, the forms and the 



means by which man manifests his veneration of the Divinity which 
he loves or fears, vary infinitely. They range, in a rather swift 
evolution, from the human sacrifice practiced by the pagans to that 
of the ram, the bull, the cabrit, or white cock. No! No! The Voodoo 
cult hides no shameful or diabolic practice. 

I hasten to add — for it cannot be denied — that alongside of 
every dominant religion there stand dissident groups, sects which 
by a perversion of religious sense believe that it is possible, while 
honoring the Divinity, to conciliate the favor of the inferior and 
malevolent spirits — of Satan, in a word. Vices, practices not only 
immoral but abominable, may soil the purest religion. 

But I have strong reasons to assert that the Negro initiated 
into the real Voodoo cult, in conformity to the pure traditions, 
entertains no relations with Satan. 

The devils to whom he is accused of sacrificing are not the spirits 
of darkness, that is to say the malevolent. They are Daimons similar 
to the Greek conception, “luminous spirits.” Criminal sorcery, black 
magic, are incompatible with the spirit of Voodoo as a ritual religion. 

May my feeble efforts contribute to disengage from the dross 
that soils it the pure essence of the Voodoo beliefs! 

And then, from the depth of our valleys, from the gorges of our 
mountains, from the forests whose century-old trees have shielded 
the sacred meetings of our ancestors in epic times, will rise in the 
air, mingled with mysterious effluvia, the songs of joy of the legions 
of Invisibles who watch over us — as in the past they inspired and 
protected the invincible founders of our independence — happy to 
see us reestablish the chain of union and fraternity between blacks 
and mulattoes in an unalterable sentiment of piety, of love toward 
the Old Divinities, the Ancestors, the immortal and revivified 

Eugene Aubin, a French writer who lived in Haiti for 
a number of years prior to 1898, interested himself in the 
study of Voodoo without ever apparently having wished to 
witness or participate in its sacrificial ceremonies. It is 
possible that he was restrained by moral scruples. He wrote, 
however, an excellent book called En Haiti, published in 
Paris in 1910, which shows he was on the friendliest terms 
with the leading fapalois and hougans of that period. He 



discussed sympathetically and at length with the more in- 
telligent ones the nature of their creed and was admitted 
to a number of their temples. 

He says : 

However crude may seem some of the beliefs and rites of Voodoo, 
the fault does not lie with the underlying principles of Voodoo 
belief, which is a sort of nature worship, finding divinities in the 
various forces of nature. Voodoo is a form of pantheism. . . . 

From the medley of purely African Voodoo tradition brought 
over by slaves from all parts of Africa, two principal rites became 
predominant, the Guinea rite and the Congo rite. The Guinea rite 
is predominant in the matter of beliefs and superstitions — the 
Congo, perhaps in practice. 

The Guinea rite has several subdivisions, Arada, Nago, Ibo, cor- 
responding to the different tribes of North and Middle Africa. 
The Guinea rite believes more in good spirits than evil ones, and 
consequently had less need of bloody sacrifice than the Congo rite. 

The lois, spirits, saints and mystery-powers which personify 
forces of nature, take their original name from old kings and gods 
of Africa, and also from the geographical names of African locali- 
ties. The qualifying titles of Papa, Maltre, Maman, and sometimes 
Monsieur are prefixed to the old names. Legba, Damballa, Agoue, 
Gucde, are from the Guinea rite but generally worshiped by all. 
Other Guinea divinities are Ogoun, Loco, Saugo, Badere. 

Damballa Oueddo and his wife, Ayida Oueddo, are considered 
the ancestors of the human race. Agoue is the navigator, Legba the 
legislator in the Haitian Voodoo mythology. Many of these are 
now confounded with or identified with Christian saints. Their 
special celebration days fall on the same days as the Catholic 
saints’ days. 

The Haitians say of a papaloi who serves only Legba and the 
benevolent gods that he is one who is accustomed to servir d’une 
main. To servir de deux mains means to engage in blood sacrifices. 

From my own observations I am inclined to believe that 
this is generally accurate, but perhaps not quite so sharply 
defined as M. Aubin believed. The Petro (Congo) cere- 
monials, which I witnessed, were always accompanied by 



blood sacrifice. Most of the purely Legba (Guinea) cere- 
monials I saw were without blood sacrifice, but twice dur- 
ing Guinea rites I saw doves and cocks sacrificed to Legba. 

Again quoting Aubin: 

The true papaloi is a man thoroughly instructed in the rites, and 
the priestly function is frequently handed down from father to son. 
The papaloi is reared in the Voodoo hierarchy and frequents the 
renowned houmforts [temples] of the Cul-de-Sac plain, Leogane, 
and I’Arcahaye where he finally is given secret initiations and 
ordained. When these last ceremonies are accomplished he presents 
himself before the faithful and intones his first prayers to the gods. 

However, every head of a family, if important, enjoys also 
priestly powers and renders service occasionally to the household 
gods. A small room in the family caille [house] may have in it a 
small altar of earth or masonry on which a light is kept burning. 

3. It was a local variation of the following chant: 


Y - ho 16-1^ 

Y - bo 16 - 16, sang Y - bo 

ga ou po 


pou - moin Y - bo, c6 moin 

OU oue. 

It means : “Ybo, the hour has come ! This is the hour of 
blood, Ybo! What are you bringing me, Ybo? It is I whom 
you see.” 

4. Here are two Voodoo invocations made up almost 
entirely of old African words. The first I have heard, with 
slight variations, in several Voodoo temples. The second, 
which was given me by Dr. Price Mars, of Petionville, I 
have never heard in actual use. I do not know the mean- 
ing of either; 



Eh! Eh! Bomba, Hen! Hen! 

Canga bafio te, 

Canga moune de le, 

Canga do ki la, 

Canga li. 

Aia bombaia bombe! 

Lama Samana quana! 

Evan vanta, a 

V ana docki! 

5. It is not my intention to gloss over the fact that 
actual human sacrifice is also an occasional integral part 
of the Voodoo ritual in Haiti. Blood sacrifice which in- 
cludes even that of human beings, and sometimes of gods, 
is and has always been an integral part of nearly all strong 
primitive religions, of no matter what race or color, in- 
cluding the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Druid, Hebrew, and 
Christian. That human sacrifice occurs in Voodoo today 
may seem strange and to many persons horrible, but only, 
I think, because they consider it in terms of “time.” With 
the “time” element removed and considered in terms of 
“space,” religious human sacrifice becomes, in a technical 
sense, both normal and moral. I have described no human 
sacrifice in the pages of this book solely for the reason that I 
never saw one. If I had lived for many years instead of 
months with Maman Celie in the mountains, it is probable 
that I should have seen one. Such sacrifices, however, 
Maman Celie tells me, are rare and performed only under 
stress of seeming dire necessity. That they never reach the 
courts or public notice is due to the fact that when they are 
pure authentic Voodoo, the sacrificial victim is never kid- 
naped, stolen, or procured by other criminal means, but al- 
ways voluntarily offered from within the religious group. 
Occasionally also, however, occurs some extraordinary crim- 
inal abuse of this practice, followed by denunciation and 
prosecution. In this category was the case of Cadeus Belle- 



garde which occurred in 1920. He was a papaloi turned 
criminal, a pathological monster comparable religiously to 
Gilles de Rais, criminally to Landru and the “Hamburg 
Butcher.” He was feared, bitterly hated, and finally de- 
nounced by the fervent Voodoo peasants themselves. The 
case was investigated at a U. S. Marine Corps provost court 
hearing at Mirebalais, and the evidence subsequently turned 
over to the Haitian courts on a ruling, I am informed, of the 
Judge Advocate General that it was outside military juris- 

In the course of the hearing, twenty-seven peasants testi- 
fied that at various times between 1916 and 1918 they had 
been present at human sacrifices made by Cadeus Bellegarde 
in which the blood of the victims was drunk and their flesh 
eaten. The witnesses included a woman who lived with 
Bellegarde, another who had been his mistress, and a young 
niece. They testified also, however, that Cadeus had de- 
based the religious ritual, that he had procured victims by 
trickery, had robbed and terrorized the peasants of the 
neighborhood, had committed a number of murders, plain 
criminal acts which had no connection with even debased 
ritual, had burned the houses of persons who threatened to 
denounce him, and forced people unwillingly, under threats 
of death, to participate with him in his criminal practices. 
I repeat that even the peasants who believed with utmost 
sincerity in the Voodoo blood sacrificial cult, even old 
hougans who had themselves participated in human sacri- 
fice and perhaps would do so again, considered this Cadeus 
Bellegarde not to be a true priest, but rather a criminal 
and murderer. 



1 . With Lieutenant F. E. Wirkus, I saw and photo- 
graphed a grave to which similar offerings had been 
brought, in the bush near Anse-a-Galet on La Gonave. At 
the head of the grave, which had been dug beneath a tree, 
a candle fixed on a stone was burning. From a branch over- 
hanging the grave dangled an armband of black crepe, a 
pair of trousers, a woman’s black dress, and two mourn- 
ing veils. Two more candles were burning on the grave, 
and an upright stick was stuck in the mound. 

2. So far as I was able to learn, this culte des marts 
practices neither human sacrifice nor murder, but molests 
only the dead. There is a misleading tale current among 
the white Americans in Haiti that three members of the 
Marine Corps, the late Sergeant Lawrence Muth of Los 
Bonas, California, Pilot Clarence E. Morris of Buffalo, 
and Private Henry Lawrence of Mound Valley, Kansas, 
who were killed during the caco uprising, were victims of 
this cult, murdered by its members. I found Marine Corps 
officers in general, however, fair in their attitude toward 
such matters, and I have the Marine Corps to thank for the 
true facts concerning that particular tragic story. 

I was motoring one day with two friends, a major and 
lieutenant, from Port-au-Prince to Hinch, when we passed, 
in the mountains beyond Mirabelais, a military post with 
a big signboard on which was written “Camp Muth.” 

“Named,” said the lieutenant, “after Lawrence Muth, 
who was murdered — ” 

“Where do you get that stuff, murdered?” interrupted 




the major. “That was war. He was killed in the fighting.” 

“Well, I guess that’s right, sir,” said the lieutenant. 
“But the ‘apes’ did chop him up after he was dead. They 
mutilated the body.” The major said this was true. 

Muth was killed in a skirmish near Las Cahobas. The 
surviving Marines, vastly outnumbered, retired fighting, 
killing ten of the cacos, but unable to take Muth’s body 
with them. 

It was recovered later, mutilated, with the head, heart, 
and liver missing. 

On my return to Port-au-Prince I was given access to 
an unofficial report in the Marine Corps files at Gen- 
darmerie Headquarters, from which I quote: 

Followers of Voodooism and kindred faiths believe that cer- 
tain qualities dwell in the bodies of the dead and that when eaten 
these qualities are also absorbed. 

In the heart lives courage, they believe ; hence, eating the heart 
gives the eater the courage that infused it. By eating the liver, they 
acquire sagacity and cunning, as well as immunity to edged weapons. 
The Voodoo worshipers also believe that if a white man’s brain be 
rubbed on the sights of a rifle it will impart to the gun a power to 
see with accuracy; make it indeed an unfailing weapon. 

W’ith all this in mind it is not hard to understand the fate that 
overtook Sergeant Lawrence Muth, of Los Bonas, California. 

Sergeant Muth with three Marines was reconnoitering in the 
vicinity of St. Michel. This is a mountain base ; on the west Las 
Cahobas, a typical Haitian village. There is a road from Las Caho- 
bas leading over the top of St. Michel ; it is little more than a narrow 
trail between the dense masses of tropical jungle. 

It had been reported that a number of bandits were in the vicinity, 
and Sergeant Muth and his little patrol were sent out scouting. They 
passed Las Cahobas while night still lay black in the valley. At 
daybreak they were at the top of the rise. Suddenly out of the tangle 
before them a few men darted. The four Marines opened fire and 
pursued. They had not gone far when a withering volley raked them 
from both sides and the rear. The fleeing men had only been a decoy 
to lure them into the ambush. Had the aim of the Haitians been 



anywhere equal to their opportunity, the four Americans must have 
been riddled immediately; as it was, Muth fell, shot through the 
head and stomach. Stone, the next in command, tried to lift the body 
of Muth to his horse. A bullet grazed his neck and struck the stock 
of his rifle. Stone, though stunned, landed on his feet, raised his 
damaged rifle, and fired; the weapon exploded, blinding him. The 
two remaining Marines swung him across his horse and retreated 
down the trail. They fought steadily until close to Las Cahobas ; 
how effectively, the bodies of ten of the bandits, found later, were 

At the village they managed to get word of the fight to Lieutenant 
Colonel Little, who was at the Marine Camp in Mirebalais, some 
twenty miles away. Twenty-four patrols were sent out to recover 
Muth’s body and punish the blacks. It took them four hours to 
reach the top of the mountain. They fought a guerilla warfare all 
the way up. 

At the very peak they found what was left of the Sergeant. 

“It was all right to kill Muth,” said the Marines. “That was war. 
But why did they mutilate his body T’ 

Some days later a prisoner was taken and he told them why. 
Their leader, he said, had been a black named Benoit. While the 
three Marines were retreating under fire, Benoit examined Muth. 
The Sergeant was not dead. 

Benoit, having assured himself of that, swung his war machete 
and chopped Muth’s head nearly off. Then he called his Lieutenant, 
one Francingue. Benoit then had ordered his men to rub their sights 
with parts of the head to assure the accuracy of their fire when 
they shot at Muth’s comrades. 

“Then,” this prisoner said, “the white man’s heart and liver were 
cooked and passed around. Benoit said that whoever swallowed 
them could not be hit by white man’s bullets or cut with white 
man’s bayonets.” 

3. On May 9, 1920, General Benoit Batraville, then 
commander of the caco revolutionary forces, was killed by 
Sergeant Passmore, U.S.^.C., in an engagement between 
cacos and American Marines which took place near Bois 
Pin in the Mirabelais district. 

This caco leader had never been a -papaloi or Voodoo 



priest, but was generally believed among his followers to 
be a bocor or sorcerer and was apparently a member of the 
culte des marts. He was also a devout Catholic. A booklet 
of secret formulas written by himself in creole was found 
upon the body. The following excerpts are translated 

To call up spirits. Arriving at a crossroads at midnight on a 
Friday, get a candle made of honey wax, ox tallow and swallow’s 
liver, which you will light on that corner in the name of Belzebuth, 
saying : “Belzebuth, I am calling you to me in order that you may 
acquaint me with (such and such a thing) this very moment.” You 
will then fire one shot, the gun to be loaded with incense and dirt, 
putting the dirt on top of the counter load. Fire to the east, saying: 
“Upon the thunder’s rumbling, may all Kings of the earth kneel 
down. May Puer, Agrippa Berke, Astaroth, spare me. Amen.” 

To put a woman to sleep that you may know all her guiles. 
Kill a toad on a Friday, take out the heart and liver and put the 
heart of the toad over the woman’s left breast, so as to have her tell 
all her secrets, and say: “Biristo, Faculta, Sialevanto. Amen.” 

To call up the dead. Go to a cemetery on a Friday night at mid- 
night, one where shootings have taken place. Go to a man’s grave, 
taking along with you a white candle, one leaf of wild acacia, and a 
fully loaded gun. On arrival you will make this appeal: ‘‘Exurgent 
mortui et acmo venuient. I require of you dead that you come to 
me.” After saying these words you will hear a stormy noise; do not 
take fright, and then fire one shot. The dead will appear to you; you 
must not run away, but walk backward three steps, saying these 
words: “I besprinkle you with incense and myrrh such as perfumed 
Astaroth’s tomb,” three times. 

Sending back a dead spirit after you have called it. Pick up a 
handful of dirt, which you will throw to the four corners of the 
earth, saying: “Go back from where you came, from dirt you were 
created, to dirt you may return. Amen.” 

How to create an invisible human face. Take a fresh egg and in 
the inside of the egg put a human gland [male semen] ; then go to 
a corner on a Friday night where you will bury the egg, which must 



remain underground for twenty-one days ; be careful in writing your 
request, which is to be put underground also. After twenty-one days 
dig up the egg and it will look like a human face and it should be 
fed with ground charcoal and verbena. Put to it your request, and 
having done so, when it is fulfilled, you must kill it or else put it 
underground alive in a cemetery on either a Monday or a Friday 

How to bathe a fighting horse. Before going to the battlefield 
and in order to make the animal more warlike, make a bath with 
incense, dirt from a cemetery, and a small crucifix, which is to be 
fastened to the animal’s tail with these words: “Jemuel, Jaccil, 
Vamiel, Jurimiel, Virimiel. Amen.” 

To prevent your enemies from poisoning your saddle. Take seven 
pins and a white candle and go on a Friday to a crossroads. Upon 
arrival, say this prayer : “I require of you. King Buer, Gusogu, 
Agrippa, for the sake of that august greeting’s fragrancy, that you 
show yourself to me, or that you let me understand that you are 
present.” At that very moment, after saying those words, lay the 
seven pins on the ground in the form of a cross in the middle of the 
crossroads and light the candle. Then take dirt from the crossroads 
and the pins and go home. Fix up an ointment with three handfuls of 
ground penguin flowers, which you will mix up with incense and 
white vinegar. Perfume the saddle and wash the saddle also in 
cross movement, saying : “King Gaspard, King Melchior, King 
Balthazar, be my guide, my support and my strength, keep me and 
defend me from all my enemies, may they be confounded. Amen.” 
These words should also be written on a piece of paper and placed 
inside the saddle where no one can see it. 

Prayer against bullets. Have a shirt made of rough rag which 
you will wear and also be careful in securing a belt of Aaron’s 
Crown [cat-eye] having three rows with the following words: “God 
of the Heaven and of the earth, immortal and invisible King, every- 
thing trembles at your name. May I, by myself, be not vanquished, 
but victor. Amen.” Every Friday, as a charity, give the poor four 

To avoid persecution. Carry with you carefully an orison and a 
relic made of a small mapou cross, cemetery dirt, a small piece of 



sheeting, with which people have been buried. Carry them along 
when you go to church and see that they are blessed at the very 
moment of the besprinkling. The following orison must also be 
included : “Acuerdate, piadossi suma del virgin de Maria de Higuen 
par los dolores de filios Dios, Jesu Christi que me corpo, este pro- 
tection de tos Sanctos, nara quel divisauno. Amen esu.” 

When confronted with torture. When one finds himself tied up, 
it is very necessary to make this prayer: “For the sake of the great 
pains which Jesus Christ suffered from Judas, the traitor, in walk- 
ing along Golgotha’s hilly road, may I be relieved from the rope 
which is piercing through my (mention the part) to the heart, just 
as the left side of Christ’s body did abundantly spill blood by 
Herod, the infamous executioner. Amen.” Order a mass in the 
name of all the saints. 

In order to be released from prison. At midnight rehearse this 
prayer : “Sesame, Sesame, allow and open yourself,” and the fetters 
shall be opened. As you come out say these words : “Sesame, shut 
again,” and on your arrival at the prison gate, if you find it locked, 
say these words : “Pastoo, Vidoo, Agrimento. Agrippa, deliver me 
from this lion which is trying by any means to take my life. Every- 
thing yields at your name, all knees bow before you. Mane, Thecel 
of the three Marys, Agrippine, Mariannie and Farres, be my guides 
and conductors. Amen.” 

To combat insincerity. When you know that a person is not sin- 
cere, on seeing him coming to your house without his being able to 
see you, take some ashes, make a cross underneath the chair upon 
which he will sit, and threaten him with a pin, saying : “I am con- 
juring you in the name of the evil spirits who are commanding you, 
whether Buer, Agrippa or Belzebuth, that you may be recognized 
this very moment. Amen.” 

In order to chase away some one who is persecuting you. Take 
along with you a picture of St. Antoine, a candle, and a white plate, 
and go at noon to a far-distant large field and there put the candle 
in the plate, light it, and say the following prayer: “Great Saint 
Antoine, prince and true charitable conductor, deliver me from . . . 
who is persecuting me ; make him get out of that place, my strength 
and my support rest within you and I promise you. Great Saint 



(such and such a thing).” After saying this prayer, be careful in 
throwing a few grains of salt and pepper about the four parts of 
the world, N. S. E. W., in repeating the same prayer. On arriving 
home, put the saint in question face to the ground for nine con- 
secutive days and repeat the same prayer each and every day. 

To remove a curse from a child against whom some one has made 
and hidden an evil, ouanga, bag charm, subsequently found. After 
seven days remove the words and compounds which have been 
found, burn them up, and make a bath out of them, in which you 
will bathe the child in the name of Belzebuth, asking him to be 
patron and guardian of this angel. This you will do after blessing 
the child. Amen. 

Relic made by the Queen of Evil Spirits against other spirits and 
which will be used as a child's safeguard. Take a piece of charcoal, 
some incense, and one leaf of three paroles. Write out the baptismal 
name of the child and his birthday and these words : “Buer Boyon, 
guardian of the orphans, take this child under your care, that he may 
never yield to temptation. Amen.” Make up this relic on a Thursday 
and put it around the child’s neck the next day in the name of 
Sancta Ritadel. Amen. 

In order to destroy a father s fondness. Fix up a bath with a 
great amount of catkins, seven leaves of Palma-Christi, three leaves 
of God the Father, three leaves of God the Son, and three leaves 
of God the Holy Ghost. Also be careful to put in indigo and burnt 
incense. Dig three holes, one for the mother, one for the father, and 
one for the godmother and godfather, over which pass the child 
three times, saying the following prayer: “Prayer Maledicto, Vade 
Sataneh, may you leave this child as Judas left and betrayed Christ. 
Amen.” [Note. A sinister and obscurely motivated formula, ap- 
parently employed to remove family protection from a child against 
whom evil intentions are entertained.] 

To relieve a woman in pains of childbirth. Make a tea of the 
following mixture: dirt from the four corners of the house and 
the following leaves: Pains Cutter, called Verbena; Abra Homo, 
called Elm Wood. Write the woman’s baptismal name and her usual 
name on a parchment, or ordinary paper, the ashes of which must 
be mixed with the tea. This being done, before giving her the tea. 



go to the rear of the house, and facing the east, call her three times; 
there will be no reply to the first and second calls, but there must 
be a reply to the third. Soon afterward give her the mixture. She 
will certainly be relieved. If the child is a boy name him Emanuel ; 
if a girl, name her Anna. 

For sprained ankle. Say these words about the bruised part : 
"Ante, Anetete, Saparlants,” three times, and Jesus Christ will do 
the rest. Then bind up the bruised part with ash-colored water and 
seven Spanish Cachimenta leaves, thus during three days. 

To heal an injured eye. Kill a black chicken with a spot on it; 
take the liver from the chicken and put it in a small quantity of 
water, which you will expose to the sun for three days; the bottle 
must always be placed toward the east and the following words 
must be added to it: “In the name of Toby, traveler, I beg you to 
enlighten me through your powerful guide, as Toby brought back 
salutary medicines to his father. Toby. Toby. Annot. Toby. Amen.” 
[Note. Presumably, the eye is afterward to be bathed or poulticed 
with this concoction.] 

When a woman is losing blood [from excessive menstruation]. 
Take seven petals of cotton flowers, not open, and boil with seven 
roots of verbena, seven roots of cotton, seven handfuls of caro- 
bonicos, or ladies’ collar, leaves in the shape of a heart. The whole 
v/ill be made into a cooling drink, which must be used for three 
days by the patient. After three days she will thank the Great 
Physician, Agrippa, by saying: “Sange, Sangeno, Sangenone, Vade 
Agua, Corpo, Amen.” (“May Saint Agrippa, the physician, pre- 
serve me from that sickness and may it stop from torturing me. 

In order to get rid of worms. Mix up a potion with a handful 
of semencontra (worm seed), one ounce of ground garlic, one ounce 
of leek, which must all be put in alcohol. Mix the whole thing 
in a pot and have the child drink it. The worms will surely be 
ejected from the child’s entrails. Amen. 

For toothache. Get hold of a new nail and threaten the tooth 
three times with a stone, saying, “Abracadabra” three times. Go to a 
mango tree and make a cross on it, saying, “Abracadabra” twice. Cut 


off the cross and boil the bark and wet the sick tooth. The ache 
will certainly be relieved. 

For rheumatism. Apply the following ointment over the sick 
part: Ground Carobornico (leaf in the shape of a heart), catkins, 
male verbena, three handfuls of boxwood, which you will mix with 
oil; then carefully rub the sick part with tepid water mixed with 
ashes. Before applying the ointment, say: “I conjure you by the 
great pains Jesus Christ endured over the sacred tree of the cross. 
Amen.” — Cured after three days. \Note. It is characteristic that 
many of these formulas, though not all, involve not only conjura- 
tions but the employment of herbs and simples which may fre- 
quently have an actual medicinal value.] 

To preserve yourself from yellow fever. Ere the fever comes to 
your house, plant a lemon tree at the gate of your property, bearing 
on it three nails in the form of a cross, and another cross made of 
twenty-one leaves of the grand mapou. Place at your front door a 
citron with seven pins set in the form of a cross about the citron. 
Place on each of your children one small citron, a piece of indigo, 
some incense, and these words, placed in a shroud : “Malo. Presto. 
Pasto. Effacio. Amen.” 

Regarding a beast in a conception way. Make up a purgative with 
twenty-one leaves, or three handfuls of verbena, some bark of Milan 
Wood (elm wood), and ground incense, and put the whole in tepid 
water. Before giving the purgative to the animal, take a piece of 
indigo and mark a cross on its left side, saying: “Nerestros, Jose et 
Petro, onuma de la virgin del Maria que sehorita modo. Amen.” 

When an animal has bellyache. When the animal is bitterly suf- 
fering, take seven roots of stinking peas, seven handfuls of ver- 
bena, and ground incense soaked into human bathing water ; mix up 
the whole thing together and make a purgative pot, which shall be 
bottled up and given to the animal. If he is standing up make a cross 
over his forehead, saying this prayer: “Magnus, Anima, Dolor, 
Dolori, Passa. For the sake of the sufferings which Christ endured 
on the Cross. Amen.” Say this prayer before giving him the potion. 

To revive a strangling beast. Make the sign of the cross and also 
make the sign of the cross on the animal’s forehead, saying these 
words: “God who is born. God who died. God who came to life 



again. God who was crucified. God who was hanged.” Pull the 
animal’s tail three times in the name of Atogu Gaspard. Amen. 

Turning a bad horse into a good horse. As soon as you buy the 
horse, take the rope which is around his neck, cut off his tail and 
also some of his mane. Then dig a hole in the yard of the one 
who sold you the animal and bury the whole thing. When you get 
to your house, bathe him with seven handfuls of huso, seven hand- 
fuls of avo, seven handfuls of garlic, and seven handfuls of ver- 
bena soaked in human urine for three days. 

To protect a field from evil influences. On the day you are plant- 
ing in your garden, get up without saying a word to anybody. Go to 
a cemetery and take dirt and a cross from a man’s grave. Turn your 
back and go to the garden, and plant underground in the middle 
of the field the said cross. The dirt will be used as a perfume and 
thrown toward all parts of the garden, at the same time asking the 
dead man to become the said garden’s faithful watchman. You 
are recommended to light a candle before making the appeal. 

How to take care of a fighting cock. Put together a piece of ox- 
tongue, seven verbena leaves, a handful of earth, verbena root, a 
fcAv catkin roots and ginger or pimiento. This must be ground to- 
gether and put into red alcohol together with a small quantity of 
gunpowder and incense. Amen. [Note. This is commonly rubbed 
thoroughly into the cock’s body, between the parted feathers.] 

Prayer to aid fighting cocks. Before the fight, say these words : 
“Great Saint, King Gaspard, in the company of all other chiefs of 
ghosts, allow that by means of the great Belzebuth’s weapon, my 
adversary be defeated. Amen.” Before going to the fight it is neces- 
sary to light a candle in the name of Agrippa. 

Another way to fight cocks. Go to a cemetery on a Friday night 
and on arrival there take the length and width of a dead person’s 
grave by means of a piece of twine, which you will use to tie up the 
cock. You will light a candle first. The next day you will go to that 
grave and take what remains of the candle and a handful of dirt 
from that grave, which you will mix up with indigo, three paroles 
leaves and incense, and rub the cock with it. 



To insure the success of a new undertaking. On the day of taking 
up the business, go to a cemetery and at the grand cross light a 
candle made from cow tallow kneaded into a black donkey’s milk. 
At the bottom of the grand cross you will place a brand-new earthen 
pot, which will contain twenty-one centimes, some wine and some 
bread, which you will throw to the four parts of the earth — N. S. 
E. W. The twenty-one centimes will be like alms-giving, after which 
you will make this prayer : “Baptiso, Crucius” — then mention your 
own name three times — “may I come out victorious (in such and 
such a business). I promise, great saint, to serve you faithfully and 
am offering Christ’s blood and body in holocaust. Amen.” 

4. On trails and roadsides in Haiti one frequently sees 
animal bodies, that of a chicken, sometimes of a pig or 
goat, suspended from the limb of a tree, but these objects, 
though sometimes also connected with sorcery, are not al- 
ways necessarily so. The Haitian Code Rural contains a 
curious provision which reads as follows: 

Pourrant neanmoins etre abattus les cochons et les cabrits qui 
auront etc trouves dans les jardins et les champs cultives ; dans ce 
cas les trois pieds et la tete de I’animal seulement appartiendront a 
celui qui I’aura abattu. 

It is interpreted to mean that trespassing pigs and goats 
caught in cultivated gardens or fields may be killed. The 
carcass, however, which is valuable, may not be confiscated. 
The farmer trespassed against may cut off three of the 
animal’s feet and its head. He is not required to return 
the carcass of the trespassing animal to its owner, but 
hangs it up by its remaining foot on the roadside, where 
the owner may come and get it if he likes. In the central 
plain where corn is grown, one frequently sees also rows 
of whitened skulls of horses, donkeys, goats, stuck up on 
poles, but these, so far as I have been able to learn, have 
no connection either with Voodoo or with sorcery. They are 
erected to scare off the crows. I have seen human skulls 
and bones used in various ceremonies, but never those of 
an animal, with the exception of snake vertebrae. 



5. Two men carry the coffin on their heads, balancing 
it with their hands. They dance zigzagging as they go to 
the grave, even on the steep trails. The procession goes 
behind, not singing or mourning, but howling and making 
wild noises. The dancing and zigzagging with the cofRn, 
as well as the howling, are to prevent evil spirits from 
entering the corpse. The theory of dancing and zigzagging 
is just as when a live man dodges and runs at angles when 
he is being shot at. 


1. Descending the trail beside the Riviere Froide with 
Dr. Robert Parsons, we came one day to a group of women 
washing clothes in the stream. They knew him and we 
stopped to talk. As we were taking leave, some of the older 
women drew us aside and said, “You’d better go round 
over the hill because the Loup Garou is just below.” Par- 
sons smiled and said, “She can’t hurt whites.” An old 
woman said, “Just the same, you’d better go round.” In 
Haiti the Loup Garou is a creature, human or demoniac, 
which sucks human blood. It is akin to the medieval vam- 
pire. Further downstream we found the Loup Garou, a 
middle-aged negress squatting in the water with a pile of 
clothes beside her, sullenly engaged in her lonely task. She 
was a griffone, the color midway between mulatto and 
black, but by some accident of pigmentation, her hair was 
a rusty, unpleasant, decided red. We tried to talk with 
her, but she refused to look up or speak. There was some- 
thing definitely repellent about her. The story of this 
woman as recounted circumstantially by the peasants of 
the Riviere Froide section was this; She went by the name 
of Mina Rouge. Her sister had died in childbirth, and 
her sister’s children, a little boy and girl, also the newborn 
baby, had been taken to Mina’s caille. The baby died, 
which was natural enough. But Mina already bore an evil 
reputation because of the color of her hair. A little while 



later, the boy wasted away and died. The community mut- 
tered and let it pass, for infant mortality is high in Haiti. 
But when the little girl began to waste away, a sorceress 
was called in by the indignant neighbors. Meanwhile the 
child had been taken from Mina’s caille. The sorceress 
stripped the little girl naked, had her emaciated body 
scrubbed, and made a minute inspection of every inch of 
the skin. Finally, on the inner sides of the big toes, she 
found a number of tiny scars, and a small sharply defined 
recent cut as if made with the point of a knife or razor 
blade. To the sorceress and peasants it was clear that Mina 
had killed the newborn baby and the boy by sucking their 
blood, and that she was in process of killing the girl in the 
same way. There are herbs in Haiti which produce stupor. 
They believed that Mina had been putting them in the 
girl’s food. She was driven from the village with exorcisms, 
her caille burned, and she now lived ostracized like a leper. 
I asked why they hadn’t killed the woman or delivered her 
to justice. They replied that they wouldn’t dare to kill her 
because she would have more power dead than living and 
could come back from the grave to drain the life-blood of 
others. And the whole affair, they said, was one which 
“did not concern the courts.” Such things never came out 
satisfactorily in the courts, and often caused trouble for 
the witnesses. It was best to let the courts alone. So she 
lived on, suffered ostracism, but was in a way protected by 
their fear of her. 

I was told of a similar case by Madame Charles Moravia, 
wife of the famous Haitian poet. She had no personal 
knowledge of the matter, but had heard of it from her 
father. A child was wasting away at Jeremie. Neighbors 
intervened, and a woman confessed that she had been suck-' 
ing its blood through needle holes made in its arm-pits; 
she averred that a demon entered her body and forced her 
to do it. 

Cases of this sort do occasionally reach the criminal 



courts, as may be seen from the following item in the daily 
newspaper, Le Matin, of January 27, 1927: 

Aux Assises 


Audience dll mardi 2!i Janvier 

Azema Daqu originaire de 
Boucan- Carre, Commune de 
Mirebalais, est assise au banc 
lies criminels. Elle ignore son 
age. II n’importe. N’onl-elles 
pas. les femmes, qne I’age 
qn’ellcs paraissent avoir? En 
tout ras, cclle qiii compara.l 
aujoiird’luii est « raajenre », 
auxyeuxde la justice, puis- 
qu’eile est grand’mere. Mais le 
conloiir,tLc sa lorme, son nez 
droi j^esyenx expre s fsd'une 
jeunessc non encore eteinle, 
qni s’ouvrlrcnt largement 
quand elle aura a nier le fait 
qni Ini est repmch(.% leraient 
enccre le chainc de plus d‘un. 
Et, I'on nejs'elonne pas queJe 
Substitut Beniamin ait dit 
dans son acle d’accusation 

c u'elle s’etait talt un « visage 
c e soeur de charite»au cabinet 
d‘Insli nction, alors qu’elle au- 
rait precedemment avoue, et 
^ la police et a la Justice de 
paix, avoir reellement exerc6 
le 13 aout 1925, des actes de 
Sorcelleric sur un entant qui 
en mort. 

Qilalre lemoins comparais- 
sffit, deposent d’abondance, 
m lis hesi ent a repondre aux 
questions qui, leur sont res- 
pective men I posees par le -Mi 
nistere Public, M'* Ed. Cassa- 
gnol, P. D. Plaisir et M. Char- 
Iciners.Mais Azema Daou.elle- 
meme, me avoir tue I’enfant 
de son petit neveu qui n’au- 
rait vecu que 7 jours. 

A la.fermeture des debats 
parCcnliers,on pouvail t n'eorq 
se demander si I’accusee etail 
vei ilablement coupable du 
crime qu’on lui reprochait. 

Apparently this woman confessed that she was a sor- 
ceress, but denied having caused the death of the child. She 
was subsequently acquitted. 

2. Stephen Bonsai, in The American Mediterranean 
(Moffat, Yard and Company, 1912), gives the following 
account of a case which occurred in 1908 during the presi- 
dency of Nord Alexis: 

A man of the working-class in Port-au-Prince fell ill. He had at 
intervals a high fever which physicians could not reduce. He had 



joined a foreign mission church and the head of this mission visited 
him. On his second visit this clergyman saw the patient die and at 
the invitation of the dead man’s wife and his physician, he helped 
dress the dead man in his grave-clothes. The next day he assisted 
at the funeral, closed the coffin lid, and saw the dead man buried. 

The mail rider to Jacmel found some days later a man dressed in 
grave-clothes, tied to a tree, moaning. He freed the poor wretch, who 
soon recovered his voice but not his mind. He was subsequently 
identified by his wife, by the physician who had pronounced him 
dead, and by the clergyman. The recognition was not mutual, how- 
ever. The victim recognized no one, and his days and nights were 
spent moaning inarticulate words no one could understand. President 
Nord Alexis placed him on a government farm, near Gonaives, 
where he was cared for. 

3. Here is the French text from the Code Penal : 

Article 249. Est aussi qualifie attentat a la vie d’une personne, 
I’emploi qui sera fait contre elle de substances qui, sans donner la 
mort, produisent un effet lethargique plus ou molns prolonge, de 
quelque maniere que ces substances aient admlnistres, quelles 
qu’en aient ete les suites. Si par suite de cet etat lethargique la 
personne a ete inhumee, I’attentat sera qualifie assassinat. 


1. In Hayti for almost two hundred years the bulk of the people 
have been faithful in their allegiance to the snake god, worshiped 
not merely by the dregs of the colored populace, but also by many, 
if not by most, who are leaders of their race. In one of the Voodoo 
Temples hangs a banner of red silk presented to the serpent deity 
by the consort of Emperor Soulouque. — Marvin Dana. 

That Soulouque, who ruled as the Emperor Faustin I 
in 1848-1859, as well as his consort Empress Adelina, 
were adherents of the Voodoo faith, is a known fact in 
Haitian history. Among the original manuscript documents 
in the collection of H. P. Davis is a letter written in ink 
which is faded yellow and almost illegible, addressed to 



the Emperor Faustin I, dated St. Suzanne, September 12, 
1849, and bearing the signature “Romain fils. Adjutant 
General Etat Majeur.” This General Romain was Faustin’s 
confidant and chief of his General Staff. He discusses mili- 
tary-political affairs which have been going badly, says 
that enemies are plotting against Faustin, and recommends 
that a sacrifice be made in the palace to the Voodoo gods. 
The concluding phrase is: 

En consequence, vous aurez, Empereur, a falre une ceremonie au 
nom de Oguegui et Obachoron et Foom. Tous trois ont le pouvoir 
de vous defendre dans le malheur. 

2. Stephen Bonsai, from whose book. The American 
Mediterranean I have quoted in a previous note, says : 

Within the last fifteen years human victims have been sacrificed 
to the gods of Voodoo in the national palace. . . . During the life 
of Madame Nord [wife of President Nord Alexis] not a week 
passed but what a meeting of the Voodoo priests was held in the 
executive mansion. There is in the capital a committee of Voodoo 
priests who have a central meeting place. Until quite recently [1912] 
it was the Chamber of Deputies or the Executive Mansion. 

Ernest Chauvet of Port-au-Prince, editor of the Nouvelliste, vis- 
ited New York in October, kindly read Chapter III of Part Three, 
which concerns him, and pointed out two errors. Henri Chauvet, his 
distinguished father, is still alive. The book Sena, which I attributed 
to L’Herrison, was written by Hibbert. This note is to thank Mr. 
Chauvet and acknowledge the corrections. 

Nov. 1, 1928. 

I wish to thank Dr. Arthur C. Holly for several photographs 
never heretofore published. 


W. B. S. 

W. B. S.